Chinese New Year: Celebrate The Year of the Dog with A Feast (plus Rosé)!

I love celebrating Chinese New Year – if you live in a big city check to see if there are any events near you coming up: Southampton always has a lion dance and dragon dance going on somewhere in the city, and you can find out more here. I’ve said before that sharing other people’s food, traditions and holidays is the purest way of showing appreciation and love, so with that in mind, I’d like to share some great recipes for celebrating the Chinese New Year of the Dog on Friday 16 February!

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What’s Cooking for Valentine’s Day?

I’m a romantic at heart and I’ve always loved Valentine’s Day – especially planning an evening out at a fancy restaurant, or staying in to celebrate with a home cooked meal. If you were after some ideas for what to cook for a night in, you’re in good company! According to a survey done for HelloFresh, 70% of couples are planning on staying in and cooking a meal this year instead of going out on the town. (And if you fancied a night in and wanted a fuss free meal idea, I have to say Hello Fresh is a great option – read my review here.)

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Be The Hostess With The Mostest: Easter Desserts and Wine Pairings

Easter is fast approaching, and if you want a couple of great chocolate recipes to wow for dessert on Easter Sunday, you’ve come to the right place! Bordeaux Wines got in touch with me with some fab recipes from chocolatier Laurent Favre-Mot, and wine pairings to match, to make you look like an effortless, chocolate-bestowing goddess this weekend. I’ve tried them both, and they are divine!

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Festive Tipples: What To Drink At Christmas Part Two


If you’re a hopelessly retro traditionalist like me, Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without a Snowball or two (or three). I don’t get why people don’t drink this more – it’s light, sherbety, and frothy, and you get to serve it with a maraschino cherry! You can buy packs of ready made Snowballs, or you can mix your own. Take one part Advocaat, three parts lemonade, and add to a glass. Mix in a tiny drop of the maraschino cherry syrup (this is my secret trick), a dash of lime cordial, and top with a toothpick adorned with cherries. Now drink it and make another one right away. Isn’t Christmas telly GREAT?!

Now, I’m sure I’m teaching grandma to suck eggs here, but I only really recently learned the perfect way to make G&T – well, the way I like it, anyway… remember clever Charlie and his recipe for homemade Pimm’s? He makes an excellent gin and tonic.


His secret is to add a third to a quarter of gin to Indian tonic water, then a big squeeze of lemon, plus a nice slice of lime. And ice – that’s important too. To be honest, I’d always missed the importance of these latter three ingredients, but they really do lift the whole thing and make it something special. (And good gin helps – Tanqueray is my favourite, followed by Bombay Sapphire, and Fever Tree tonic is a must!)


Perhaps not traditional at Christmas, but still one of my favourite drinks – Campari! It has a pretty festive colour, don’t you think? Campari is a bitter orange liqueur and the easiest way to drink it is with lemonade, soda water or tonic water.


If you’re hankering after something a bit stronger, try my new favourite cocktail – the Negroni! It packs a heck of punch! Luckily the recipe is simple, so even after you’ve had a couple you should still be able to whip up some more… You just mix equal parts gin, Campari and red vermouth, and serve over ice. Hic!


Finally, there’s a couple of really good sweet dessert wines that are perfect for this time of year – ice wine and Sauternes!


Both are super sweet, thick and syrupy wines perfect for pairing with mince pies, Christmas cake or Christmas pudding. (And Sauternes is delicious served with chicken liver parfait too!)


My favourite Sauternes comes from Fortnum and Mason (and was delivered in my Christmas hamper this year!) but ice wine can be a little trickier to track down. It’s made from grapes which have frozen on the vine, creating a super sweet taste, and is mostly produced in Canada and Germany. Funnily enough, the only place I’ve found it for sale is Lidl – but at £18.99 a bottle, this isn’t a bargain basement deal (and as I said, is absolutely delicious!).

What are your favourite Christmas tipples? Let me know in the comments!

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Festive Tipples: What To Drink At Christmas Part One

Welcome to part one of my festive drinks posts – I’m covering wine in this one, and I’ll be talking about spirits and cocktails in my follow up!


The question of what to drink with the dish of the day isn’t surely at the top of the list when it comes to party planning on Christmas Day – which is why it’s handy to have a couple of no-brainer options under your belt. Whether you’re the host or a guest, picking up a bottle of red and white to go with the meal is a sure fire recipe for success!


To pair with turkey and roast ham, pick up this Giesen Sauvignon Blanc for £8 from Majestic and Sainsbury’s – a pretty damn good price for a sweet, versatile white with gooseberry notes! This is the perfect bottle to pick up if you’re only bringing one with you – because turkey or chicken is sure to be on the menu. I also reckon it would be a great gift as well, especially if you pair it with a handwritten note with serving suggestions on it!


If you’re having darker roasts like duck or game (and we’re having duck and partridge this year!) you should check out Château Labadie, 2009 The Wien Society, £10.50. With its medium body, it’s a great partner for roasted meats of all kinds, making it a great way to spread a little Christmas cheer at the table. Rich and decadent, with a velvet mouthfeel, this went down a treat when we taste-tested it at my parents’ house for Sunday lunch!


But you know, mulled wine makes Christmas – yet I rarely drink it on the day. Instead, it’s served before carols or after a long snowy walk, to redden your cheeks and steam up your glasses. Huddled over a cup of mulled wine, inhaling the wisps of cinnamon and orange, snuggled in the candlelight with a cosy blanket over your knee – this is what Christmas dreams are made of! I absolutely love these super little sachets c/o Hotel Chocolat – bundles of festive joy you can chuck into the pot like a big witches brew, to steam and seethe while your guests arrive! Who needs scented candles when you’ve got these babies to hand?!

What tipples will you be serving with the big meal this year?

Samples of the products mentioned were provided as PR samples, all text and photos are my own.

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Thanksgiving in the UK

I’ve been doing Thanksgiving in the UK for years now. Partly it’s to indulge in my love of Americana, partly it’s to trial new dishes for Christmas, but mostly it’s to do a kind of Christmas with friends, which is not something that’s easy to do for a holiday that’s dominated by family. I like to call it Friendsgiving, and some people call it Friendmas, but either way, I can’t see how anyone wouldn’t want to get behind a day of fun, food and friends – no matter which side of the ocean you’re on!

I don’t have a lot of room for entertaining but I think that what’s part of the fun – a cobbled together table made partly of IKEA garden furniture, and mix and match plates; the Glitz design from Next and my Starburst set from Biba at House of Fraser… (I also picked up gold tumblers and cutlery from Next too!)

This year I used mini pumpkins left over from Halloween and used a gold Sharpie to initial the guests’ names on them – a last minute rush job, but it looks fairly decent considering I was in literal red alarm panic mode when I did it!

For my starter, this year I did a really simple cheese board. It’s so easy to throw together and gets everyone talking as they pass the crackers and talk about which cheese they like the best! I made chutney from The Spicery’s apple chutney recipe, and served Hotel Chocolat’s gorgeous new Christmas chutney too – it went down a treat!

I’m definitely picking another jar up for my Christmas cheeseboard! (Get yours here: mine was C/O Hotel Chocolat, usual RRP £5). Picking the cheeses was fun – you should get a mix of different textures and flavours, but always remember your audience. Experts say to select at least one from the four basic categories of blue, aged, firm and soft. I say, pick what you and your friends like – it’s easy to get bogged down in rules and forget the simple things!

I selected Cathedral City mature cheddar, Castello Danish Blue Extra Creamy Cheese, President Brie, Castello Pineapple Halo, white Stilton with apricots and Wensleydale with cranberries. The pineapple was an absolute winner served with crackers, and I also provided sundried tomatoes and olives.

I thought I was being a bit restrained with my main courses, but when I wrote it out it was obvious I was as crazy as ever. The day before I’d made Nigella’s ham in Coca Cola (forget the turkey – it’s not Thanksgiving or any kind of celebration in my house unless Nigella is involved somewhere) and started my dry-brined turkey. This was served with a cognac, cream and thyme gravy (and good old Sunday roast gravy too, which was far more popular!)

On the side was brown butter and pecan green beans, which was a massive hit and a new dish I will definitely be making again. I also made rosemary and orange cranberry sauce, cheddar cheese cornbread, creamed corn (if I don’t make this, I will be in real trouble with certain people!) apple, bacon and caramelised onion dressing (I think I’ll go back to Martha Stewart’s classic onion, sage and celery next time) roast potatoes, smoked garlic mashed potatoes, maple syrup and cracked black pepper carrots, and peas! And, my lovely foster-sister-cousin made mac and cheese!

Most of the recipes I make year after year come from two books – How To Cook A Turkey from Fine Cooking and Thanksgiving 101 by Rick Rodgers. I’ve got loads of Thanksgiving recipe books, but these two are the absolute best and I would recommend them to anyone!

Then, pumpkin pie, apple pie and chocolate cheesecake (all made by my lovely mum), followed by fireworks in the garden and roasted chestnuts and marshmallows around the fire. That’s because, unfettered by the American (and Canadian) constraints of time, I can have Thanksgiving whenever I like, and so I decided to have it on Bonfire Night in the U.K., to make a double whammy celebration!

I’d love to know your favourite Thanksgiving recipes and traditions – share them with me in the comments!

 

Halloween Style 2016

The run-up to Halloween is in full swing, and if there’s one place you need to go for cute yet sophisticated Halloween goodies, it’s Fortnum and Mason. Every year they produce a range of fearsome snacks, sweets and treats, and even if you’re not buying, heading for a browse is a must-do in October. (And please, don’t forget to visit for Christmas too!)

You can also check out their range online here. I think I’d die and go to heaven if I ever got my hands on one of their incredible Halloween hampers, especially this nifty black and orange version!

Closer to home, the great pumpkin purchasing has begun – I always buy way too many pumpkins, because I love making displays of them, cooking with them, and carving them! Locally, the best place to go for pumpkins is either the Hampshire Farmers’ Markets, or Pickwell Farm.

I went with my parents earlier in the month and managed to spend £27 on pumpkins… Yes, I bought A LOT of them.

But, how could you resist when they’re so cute and adorable? I picked up a dozen mini orange ones, and a dozen more white ones, which will be perfect to mark place settings on my table at Thanksgiving too!

When it comes to edible pumpkins, you have to try Crown Prince. In my opinion, this is the absolute finest culinary pumpkin, pictured above – and what’s better, it’s easy to spot! It has a beautiful duck-egg blue skin, so you’ll always be able to find it without confusing it with other types. And, if you see the Gem squash on sale, nab some of those, too. Cut off the tops, and fill them with cream, cheese, garlic and a sprig of thyme. Bake in the oven and serve for a hearty lunch or starter. These are a speciality of my mum’s and everyone loves them!

London’s bakeries are getting into the spirit of Halloween with loads of wicked treats! You can make a similar biscuit at home with your favourite sugar cookie or shortbread dough – just form them into fingers and add a blanched almond ‘fingernail’ at the top, and smear liberally with jam!

If you want some more Halloween inspiration, make sure you check out my post about Lancaster London’s Halloween ARTea experience – it was amazing, and the food was utterly, utterly divine. (Still thinking about those chorizo tarts!)

Charlotte Olympia’s window is looking very on trend right now with its spider web logo – and I have to say, I love wearing my kitty flats this time of year because not only are they utterly gorgeous, but they’re also very Halloween-ish!


I also really, really wish I could get a pair of their cool spider web logo earrings, here, but I’m trying very hard to be good with my spending at the moment… Hmm.

Another great Halloween idea for biscuits – ice dark chocolate gingerbread men to look like skeletons! Don’t you just love their cute little skulls?!

So, there’s my round up of some cool Halloween style I’ve spotted recently – how are you going to celebrate this year?! Share your tips in the comments!

A Right Royal Repast: Sandwich Recipes For The Queen’s Birthday Celebrations

It’s HRH Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday today, and although people are already celebrating, many of the official activities aren’t planned to start until May. But that doesn’t mean you can’t knock up a few royally-approved sandwiches to toast to her Maj!

I’ve put together five easy sandwich recipes which can be enjoyed as a picnic or as part of afternoon tea. The only real difference would be how you cut them! In order to make sandwiches for high or afternoon tea, you cut off the crusts and cut the sandwich into three fingers (cutting across the longest edge, so your fingers are wide and fat, not slim and long!). For picnics, you might like to cut your sandwiches into triangles. If it’s everyday boring old lunch, then just cut them into two rectangles. This is a secret sandwich language devised by Brits so we know exactly how posh the situation is. Don’t tell anyone…

Coronation Chicken spice

One of the first things that springs to mind when we’re talking royal food is Coronation Chicken. This is like a basic American chicken salad, but jazzed up with Indian influences. Created in the 50s by Rosemary Hume, it was originally called poulet reine Elizabeth! The dish was created to be easy to prepare in advance and consume in front of the TV, watching the Coronation.

At its most simplest, Coronation Chicken is just a combination of curry powder, mayonnaise and chicken, but if you can’t get your hands on curry powder, you might like to know how to make your own. Mix 1 tsp ground coriander, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1/2 tsp ground ginger, 1/2 tsp mustard powder, 1/4 tsp ground cloves and 1 tsp turmeric together. If any of these are too spicy for you, leave them out. You can add in some chilli powder if you like, but Coronation Chicken isn’t supposed to be hot!

Then, mix 200g of cooked chicken with 1 tsp of curry powder, 1 tbsp mango chutney, 1/2 tsp of Worcestershire sauce and 3 tbsp mayonnaise together. This is your filling!

Coronation Chicken inside

This filling will probably make three or four rounds of sandwiches – I like to add in some little gem lettuce, but you can also add in flaked almonds and coriander too. If you’re preparing this for a salad, use less mayo and lay it on a bed of lettuce.

Coronation Chicken finished

Next up is a royal recipe adapted from Tea Fit For A Queen – recipes inspired by London’s royal palaces. Cucumber sandwiches are one of the most iconic of all British sandwiches, but I must confess I don’t know anyone who makes or eats them regularly. This is the kind of sandwich filling that means you must be somewhere posh!

Cucumber and mint filling

Peel, deseed and chop one whole cucumber, then mix in 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp white wine vinegar, a sprinkle of salt, and some finely chopped mint leaves and allow to stand for at least 10 minutes.

Cucumber and mint inside

Take one slice of brown bread and one of white, butter both sides (to stop the moisture from the cucumber making the bread soggy!) and lay the drained cucumber slices on the top.

Cucumber and mint sandwiches

This is absolutely delicious and well worth making – so refreshing and light! It was the surprise hit of my tasting session with friends! And, just as with the Coronation Chicken, you can serve this filling as a stand alone salad.(This filling will make around three to four rounds of sandwiches.)

This next filling isn’t really glamorous, but it’s such a staple I couldn’t leave it out. And, I serve mine with a little twist – it’s cheese and pickle sandwiches!

Cheese and pickle inside

You can use Branston Sandwich Pickle in this, but I prefer to buy caramelised red onion chutney. My secret trick is to spread the bread very thinly with mayonnaise – it gives the cheese an extra hint of creaminess and contrasts beautifully with the pickle! I stole this idea from Pret A Manger and I’m never giving it back. HA HA HA!

By the way, you can grate your cheese, you can slice it, or you can crumble it into small, thin pieces with a knife by doing little cuts into the cheese, which is my favourite way. Each one has its own texture, and does make a difference to the final sandwich.

Cheese and pickle finished

The next sandwich is one of my favourites – a traditional ham sandwich, pepped up with some Dijonnaise. It’s traditional to serve ham sandwiches with English mustard, but I like to mix Dijon mustard in with mayonnaise and use it to spread on the bread.

Ham sandwiches

The key part here is to get good quality ham – my favourite is Wiltshire, but any dry or crumbly ham is good. I can’t give you quantities for batches, but you’ll be using one or two slices of ham per round, around four slices of tomato, and three or four lettuce leaves.

Ham sandwiches inside

Spread your Dijonnaise on both sides of the bread, and lay the fillings inside. So simple!

Ham sandwiches finished

Last but not least – egg mayonnaise, that nursery staple. It’s not so popular for lunch these days because the smell of the eggs will make everyone around you despise you, but for a celebration you can’t go wrong! You can mix in some chopped chives if you’re feeling fancy, but the old-school traditional way to prepare this is with cress.

Egg mayonnaise

Here’s my secret to perfect hard boiled eggs every time – add them to a pot of cold water in a single layer with around an inch of water at the top. Bring to the boil, and as soon as the water is boiling, remove them from the heat and place a lid on the top of the saucepan. Leave for ten minutes. As soon as the time is up, plunge them into iced water until they’re cold! Very easy, and great results every time, I promise.

Egg mayonnaise inside

You’ll want to use one egg per round of sandwiches – mix in 1 tbsp of mayonnaise to hard boiled eggs, and a pinch of cress or chives (finely chopped). Then add to your sandwiches – no need to butter these, but feel free to add salt to the mixture!

Egg mayonnaise finished

Tah dah! My five sandwich recipes for a right royal high tea, or picnic. I’ll be sharing some more recipes in the run-up to the celebrations, so keep checking back!

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Before I go, here’s a cool infographic created by NRS Healthcare, which lists 90 facts about the Queen at 90! Enjoy! (And visit their blog here to find out about their good work, too!)

Queen's 90th Birthday

 

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