easy cooking

Bar Snacks – Spiced Nuts

Ingredients

  • 1/4 tsp Coriander, ground
  • 2 tsp Rosemary
  • 1/4 cup Maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp All spice
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1/4 tsp Cumin, ground
  • 2 1/2 cups Nuts, Mixed
  • 2 tbsp Butter

Method

  • Preheat oven to 180°C.
  • If nuts are not already roasted, place on lined baking tray and spray with oil – bake for 5 minutes until golden. If already roasted, skip this step
  • While the nuts are roasting in the oven, prepare the spice mixture by adding butter, syrup and spice mix together in a heat proof bowl and microwaving for 45 sec to 1 min
  • Once the nuts are toasted, remove from the oven and coat with warm spice mixture – mix well to ensure even coating
  • Return the nuts to the oven for approx 10 more minutes or until golden, stirring once after 5 minutes
  • Remove tray from oven and cool on baking tray
  • Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week

Bar Snacks – Cheesy Zucchini Chips

Ingredients

  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 1 teasp garlic powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups Panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup grated cheese blend – Parmesan and mozzarella

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Line a baking tray with baking paper

Slice the zucchini into thin rounds

In a medium shallow dish, whisk together the eggs with a pinch of salt and pepper

Process the breadcrumbs, cheeses and garlic powder lightly together

Dip each zucchini into the egg mix and then into the breadcrumb mix, pressing it on all sides of the zucchini

Arrange the zucchini on the prepared baking sheets in a single layer

Bake the zucchini chips for 20 to 30 minutes, turning them over halfway through, until they are golden brown and crispy.

Remove the zucchini chips from the oven and serve warm – tomato salsa would be a wonderful dip to accompany these!

Cooking with kids – knife safety

   

Seven Tips for Knife Safety with Kids

Cooking with kids is such a fun and memorable experience. Safety is one of the top priorities in any kitchen and using a knife safely is essential. Kids can learn kitchen confidence and become a willing helper in the kitchen with these safe tips to get them chopping, slicing and dicing with ease. Feel free to print my info graphic for easy reference when cooking with kids!

Tip One – Keep it sharp

I can’t stress enough how much safer a sharp knife is. I know it can seem counterintuitive but a sharp knife does the job properly – accidents can happen when blunt knives need too much pressure to slice or chop through your ingredients. Small hands already grapple with a knife, adding pressure to their chop can create an unstable technique.

Tip Two – The right knife does the right job

Knives come in all shapes and sizes and each knife has a specific job and adds to the ease in which a task is completed. A small knife is easy for small hands to handle in the initial stages of learning how to cut. That being said ensure the small knife is used for small tasks – topping and tailing beans, cutting up soft meats like chicken, slicing herbs and cutting smaller sized potatoes. When your kid/s becomes more confident and able to complete harder cutting techniques a cooks knife is recommended for chopping, slicing and dicing. These larger knives are made to complete specific tasks – the front for precision slicing and the heel or back for rocking chopping and cutting hard vegetables.

Tip Three – Practice with plastic

To get your kid/s used to  chopping use a plastic or lettuce knife and practice with soft foods such as bananas, grapes and hard boiled eggs. Even play-dough or salt dough can work a treat to create knife confidence.

Tip Four – Secure the board

On some surfaces a chopping board can slip and slide creating an unstable surface and accidents to follow. To secure your board just dampen a dishcloth or paper towel placing it underneath the chopping board then checking for any wobble. 

Tip Five – Get a grip

Securely gripping the knife can make a difference in technique confidence – try and mirror the following pictures to get a grip and become confident

Tip Six – Use the claw

Wayward fingers are like targets for a slipping knife. Tucking fingers away prevents dangerous slips cutting into fleshy fingers. The claw can feel uncomfortable at first but it is the best way to control the item you are cutting and keep fingers cut free. To get little hands used to the claw, teach them to cut smaller items they can grip easily. I halve large onions for them to practice on, cut down large carrots into more manageable pieces and halve potatoes. They still get to practice but in a more manageable manner.

Tip Seven – Keep it cool

Watching anyone learn to cut with a sharp knife be they kid or adult can be stressful. Accidents do happen and cuts are distressing but hovering anxiously adds to the pressure to get it right. I always keep a watchful eye on the chopping but with enough distance they feel they are in charge of their skill. Speaking calmly and reminding them to hold their knife properly and use the claw will keep them on track and cuts out of the picture. In the learning stages the technique is more important than the outcome. So some of the onion is a little chunky or the dices a little wonky. These outcomes are arbitrary when cooking at home. Even as an apprentice my cutting technique needed constant revision and honing. I was taught to cut on items that were either going into a soup or stock or being blended so the final outcome was reliant on my technique. As my confidence grew and technique refined I was able to complete more precision cuts. For now, just keep it cool and allow your kid/s to hone their technique one chop at a time.

 

Salted Caramel Sauce

Sweet buttery caramel with a touch of saltiness. It’s one of those flavour combinations that take you by surprise. Sweet and salty together? I was a skeptic but when the balance is created well it really is divine.

There are a couple of keys to success when making salted caramel sauce:

1. A deep heavy based saucepan – make sure you use a very clean (no food bits at all or burnt areas) heavy saucepan when making caramel. Why? If there are burn marks or food remnants this will taint the caramel and create burnt not caramelised sugar. The heavy saucepan also ensures an even cooking and prevents the sugar catching on the side and burning in spots. Why deep? See the next point

2. Have your cream warm – cold cream plus hot caramel equals a hot, dangerous mess. Adding any liquid to hot caramel requires care and attention and having warm cream reduces the risk of the hot caramel overflowing in your pan. A deep pan will also ensure that the caramel doesn’t bubble up and overflow – and bubble up it will

3. Take your pan off the heat when adding the cream – the caramel will keep cooking even when off the heat so by removing the direct heat source you will stop the cooking process from the source and add the cream safely 

 Please though, be aware when making caramel that it become extremely hot – when it becomes caramel stage it can be at temperatures of over 110 degrees celsius – plus with caramel it sticks to the skin and keeps burning. So how do you keep safe when cooking with caramel?

1. Use a long handled wooden spoon – this will prevent the sugar from conducting heat into the spoon and will keep your hands well away from the caramel

2. Have a container of ice water ready – if you do happen to drip a little caramel sauce on yourself plunge the area straight into the icy water – it will harden the caramel and stop it from cooking on your skin

Don’t let this safety tips deter you from cooking – I just like to educate you on how to keep safe in the kitchen! 

 

Now for the recipe:  

 

[yumprint-recipe id=’8′]

Easy ways to cook well, eat well and have fun doing it

Friends cooking together the veagetarian dinner in kitchen

An interesting revelation has come to come me lately. I always had this preconception that as a chef just because I know how to cook I must know how to eat. Let me explain my logic here – when you can cook and anything and enjoy cooking surely you must only eat the very best and cook the very best? Well, yes and no. Yes I do love cooking delicious and beautiful meals but do I always choose them? No. The usual excuses come into play here. Not enough time to cook when I get home from work, not bothered cooking once again or just plain sick of the sight of food and having to decide what to cook for dinner.

Meal plans, frozen meals, ready meals I hear you exclaim! I totally get the logic of this but there is also the friend that goes hand in hand with excuses – habit. It was never a habit of mine to make and freeze meals. It has never been a habit of mine to right a menu for the week. So what do you do when you are not eating well and don’t know where to start.

Learn what foods work for you and your body

  1. What is eating well and what does it mean to you?

Everyone has their definitions of eating well. For some it’s a calorie controlled meal plan, for others it’s a vegetarian diet, other’s it paleo. At the heart of eating well for me is choosing certain non-negotiable items:

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables that are in season – buying seasonal and local means that not only are you getting the best version of your produce, you are also buying at the best value. Fruits and vegetables have seasons for a reason – this is when they grow best. When fruits are in season they are priced to match – there may be a glut from ideal weather so they are able to be sold off at a great price.
  • Quality meat, fish and poultry. If you choose to eat animal products ensure they are the best quality you can afford. To me respecting the animal source is paramount – free range or organic where possible and from reputable sources.
  • Full fat everything – now I know this seems in opposition to eating well but by eating full fat you aren’t compromising on flavour which can be compensated with added sugar or salt in low fat products. Fat satiates whereas sugar can trick your mind into thinking it hasn’t eaten as many calories as it has. Instead of having a small spoon of mayo you may find yourself using 3-4 to create the desired taste.
  • Make from scratch where you can – I am all for eating the foods you enjoy. Biscuits, cakes and muffins are all ok but I prefer that they be made from scratch. Packet mixes are usually just your dried ingredients plus stabilisers and emulsifiers added in. When you make your own foods you can adjust to taste and ensure the ingredients you love are in them. Baking muffins with oats and whole fruits makes for a sweet treat with added nutrients, cakes that can be made grain free without compromising flavour are possible. The same applies to dressings, sauces and marinades. Instead of just buying a sugar syrup with spices you can make robust and interesting combinations that suit your tastes.

Ok so now we have my rules for eating well. What is the next step?

schedule

  1. Create the habit and pay attention to your schedule.

There is no point planning a 7 day meal plan if you know you will be out or working for 3 of those days. Just the same as buying items that will go off quickly if you don’t use them with a plan. Plan for last minute catch-ups, outings or late shifts and what you can do with the food in your fridge if you don’t get to it straight away. Having your vegetables chopped ready for the week can mean that if you find yourself not home for dinner two nights in a row you can just blanch (steam/boil then cool in ice water) them for 2 minutes and then freeze to use when you can. The same applies to fruits. Having them diced up can make them more appealing to grab and if you find you’re just not getting to them pop them in the freezer for baking or smoothies.

 

frustrated cooking

  1. Explore your excuses and reluctance.

The reasons we don’t eat well, move our bodies or take care of ourselves can be varied and many. Family habits, projections and expectations can all create stories in our heads as to why we can’t, won’t, shouldn’t, it’s too hard. So how do we create new positive habits and let go of the stories? Start to question them – Are they yours? Have you been listening to other people’s stories? Are you repeating habits of family members? Are you projecting ideas onto yourself from what you think is required? All these stories and ideas can lock yourself into thinking nothing can change or will change. By exploring limiting beliefs you can choose new ways of being. Being in allowance of what works for you can be the first step in choosing different. Instead of judging the choices you have made to this point you can allow yourself to choose something new.

I am the first to admit that my clothes have gotten considerably tighter due to my excuses. I wasn’t willing to look at the changes in my lifestyle and the effects they would have. I went from working full time as a chef on my feet all day and doing outdoor activities 3-4 times a week to working part time and sporting a foot injury that dramatically reduced my activity levels. All of this can be compensated for but there needs to be no excuses and stories. If I had paid attention to my body, my eating plans and movement I would have identified the need to adjust my lifestyle. Notice I don’t say “go on a diet” or “exercise more”.

It is important to care for yourself without creating unrealistic goals and ideas that just serve to cement us in place versus allowing us to move forward. As the majority of my clothes got tighter I finally stopped, sat down and asked myself some questions. What has changed? What is different? Where am I not paying attention to my body and its care? This is where I came to realise I was eating energy dense foods in quantities I didn’t require. On days when you are moving around a lot and being very active more food may be required. Low key days at home may see you eating less. Or maybe neither of these apply to you but for me this reflection was key to getting my health and well being back on track.

Previous to my foot injury I was easily active. I enjoyed being outdoors and being active. The pain and frustration of my injury had my become all or nothing. Either I could be active or I wasn’t bothered. You can see how this isn’t conducive to good health and well being. So what could I have chosen?

  • Low impact movement: Yoga, pilates, boxing without the running components, using a small trampoline, swimming, bike riding, all these activities are low impact on my feet and could assist in keeping my body moving, vital and healthy
  • Planning meals: Having favourite recipes and meal ideas I know I enjoy and can create easily can take away the what to cook for dinner frustration
  • Proper rehabilitation of the muscles: This was the biggest issue. I refused to see a doctor or podiatrist for my foot pain for months. Not days or weeks, months. Even then I was reluctant to change my work shoes, do the rehabilitation of the muscles and seek other opinions and options. I didn’t want to admit that my body had changed and what may have been a minor issue I allowed to become a major one.
  • Checking in: Instead of just assuming that everything was too hard or too painful I could have checked in daily with what movements were comfortable for that day. Your body is ever changing and ever moving. Some days we are flexible and supple, some days we might be a little stiff and sore but it is changeable with some care and attention

So what did I choose? Only some of the above sometimes. As mentioned, the pain and frustration of my injury had me shutting down any awareness of the change required. I didn’t want to know what I could do I just wanted to mourn what I was no longer capable of. Sound familiar?

So what now?

time to change

  1. The time has come

For me now the time has come to start choosing different and enjoying my body, eating and movement once more. I starting seeing a different chiropractor, I went back to the podiatrist and said my orthotics weren’t working, I saw a physio to release the muscles and it worked. My feet are actually feeling better. I was also unsure that my hormones were in check so I went to a doctor. There is no shame in asking questions of health professionals. Sometimes they may have a key piece of information that you require. Of course no one knows your body like you do but if you don’t ask you can’t change anything.

It can take time to change habits as well. Some may disappear just by acknowledging them and some may take a little more processing but just being willing to choose is the first step.

I am excited at the new changes I know will be possible for me and my body and if you would like some further advice on eating well, cooking delicious foods or choosing supportive and fun movements and activities for your body please feel free to be in touch. I love to share my experience and offer ideas and support for you and your body. If you would like a more in-depth program I have fantastic packages available. Let me know what’s cooking in your kitchen and what has helped you create fabulous health and wellbeing J

What is creating Christmas Magic with Luisa and Jennie?

xmas collage

 

Christmas can be an interesting time of year. People are either stressed out shopping for the “perfect” gift or looking forward to spending time with family and friends over the break. Sometimes you may be like me for the last 14 years in the hospitality industry and you are dreading the onslaught of Christmas parties that bring long lunches, busy shifts and not a lot of holiday cheer.

So what if we could change this? What if we could create some Christmas magic that brings joy, happiness and sparkle back into your life? Regardless of your religious beliefs about this season, the universal desire to be with family, celebrate love and cheer and create a special time to come together and take a moment to appreciate all that we have has no boundaries. 

This year I am looking forward to Christmas as a time to stop, reflect and appreciate this year, my family, my partner, friends and my job. Christmas magic for me is also about taking the time to create gifts from the heart for those around us to show our love and appreciation for them. Simple gestures that reflect the recipients taste, likes and hobbies can go a long way to creating a gesture of love. 

When I was younger my mother always helped me create birthday cards for my classmates. At the time I found this horribly embarrassing and wondered why I couldn’t just buy birthday cards like everyone else but as time has passed and I have found the cards I made for my parents I can’t  help but smile at the memories and creativity that has gone into each one. 

Tapping into our creativity in a supportive and fun environment goes beyond that which we are making in front of us. This space can allow us to nurture our skills and the pleasures we take in forming beautiful foods, objects and decorations. In my busy weeks at work I lost sight of the pleasure of doing something different and creating something beautiful. I started to come back to the simple childhood pleasure of colouring in and this joy and fun has led me to creating a Christmas class with my friend Jennie. We would like to invite you to come play with us, taking time to nurture your creativity and explore what else you could make and have fun with. We come with many years’ experience playing with recipes, creating sewing or craft projects and delighting in homemade objects with a recipient in mind. 

What if you and your body are yearning for a space to come play with beautiful ribbons, sweet smelling spices and fun to play with salt dough? What if it didn’t matter what you created but just that you allowed yourself to create and just choose to have some fun with it? Interested? Yearning to join? For more info on the class click here for the nitty gritty and to book. We hope to have you join us for some Christmas magic soon.

 

The cheek of it all! – Morrocan style beef cheeks

The saying goes ask and you shall receive. My sister in law asked for beef cheeks and she received them – slow cooked with Moroccan style spices until fork tender and served with a side of roast cauliflower and chickpea salad. Clearly she knew who to ask! B;D

Braised meats are a delicious and simple way to create family favourite meals. Whilst they require time to cook, they are not in fact time consuming to prepare. After sealing the meat and creating the liquid for the beef to cook in, beef cheeks are a great meal that can be left to cook whilst you go about your day.

I have cooked beef cheeks a variety of ways over the years they have come back into vogue – from a carmelised sticky deliciousness as a result of being braised in stout beer to a lighter red wine braise to my version with the Moroccan style spices.

Beef cheeks become a beautiful braised meal when left to stew in their own juices – jokes aside, they do really benefit from a long slow cook as the muscle itself is quite tight and when braised whole keep their shape quite well for presentation. You can also use the cooked cheeks for a ravioli or cannelloni filling – just fork shred the tender meat, mix through some leftover braising liquid to moisten and stuff your cannelloni shells or fold into your silky pasta dough. Easy and delicious. If you’re not up to filling your pasta, just fork shred the beef, add some liquid as before and toss through some pappadelle pasta for a lovely ragu style sauce. Topped with some shaved pecorino (a hard goat’s cheese similar in style to Parmesan) it’s definitely a winner for entertaining guests or just enjoying at home.

The accompanying salad was inspired by some very delicious cauliflower combinations I have discovered in cafe’s and health food shops recently. I must admit cauliflower was a vegetable I studiously avoided for much of my adult life. As a child I absolutely hated it. No matter if mum tried to dress it up with creamy sauce and golden melted cheese – underneath was still the dreaded cauliflower florets. What I realised was I really don’t like boiled cauliflower unless it is then pureed into a soup. I tried cauliflower as an adult again in said salads and found myself really enjoying it. It was because the cauliflower was only lightly cooked and still had some crunch. Then I discovered roast cauliflower. Now we were talking. I didn’t assume this could be done – roast a vegetable that is usally steamed or boiled?! But you can and let me assure you, it is delicious.

You can coat the florets with some olive oil and salt and pepper to ensure a nice even golden colour and if you like a bit of spice, add some chilli powder to the salt blend before sprinkling on. The cauliflower takes about 30 mins at 170 degrees to cook to a tender but still firm texture. I popped some baby tomatoes I had rolling around the fridge in and a salad was born.

Don’t be afraid to mix and match salad ingredients to suit your tastebuds either. I added chickpeas, spinach, coriander and flaked almonds to the mix. The dressing? A lovely avocado dressing I found in the local fruit shop – something a bit different to the usual but you could easily whisk up some orange juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil and seasoning for this combo.The dressing just caught my eye so I decided to go with it!

Feel free to experiment and let me know how you you went with your own recipe variations and happy cooking!

 

 

[yumprint-recipe id=’1′][yumprint-recipe id=’2′] 

 

 

Undercover Chef – Top and Tails

The last thing you want to do sometimes after a busy day is to prepare your vegetables for dinner – so how do you get your greens without having to stand in the kitchen for even longer? When you get them home from the market or shops top and tail them so they are ready to go. That way you can grab them for a snack, chop them roughly for a salad or steam them up for a side dish. Easy!

8 Easy hints and tips for dinner party success – the food!

Following up from my last blog of tips and tricks for dinner party success comes the most important part. The food!

More often than not this is the part that brings the most stress to the host’s planning. What to cook. How will it look. Will there be enough. Will everyone like it. Or will I have blue soup a la Bridget Jones?

Fear not though, I have compiled a simple list of eight tricks and tips that will have you trotting out the good china and stemware in no time!

1. Cook what you know

Now this may seem like it defeats the purpose of a dinner party when you bring out a new recipe and claim ‘ oh this? it’s just something I whipped up’. Yes we may all long for those moments but if you are a newbie to the dinner party scene, it’s best to start simple and build your way up. A chef doesn’t suddenly know how to make a twice cooked cheese souffle. They learn how to make a roux, a bechamel, how eggs work and then, then they learn the souffle.

In the world of “here’s one I prepared earlier’ it is easy to become disillusioned with cooking at home and making food you love. The best tip I learnt from my first head chef was to ‘cook what you know’. I used to do a lot of cooking competitions as an apprentice and they were about as stressful as a dinner party can get.

My head chef was adamant though that I chose menu items I knew from the restaurant or family favourites and he would help me take them to the competition level with either a bit more sophisticated plating (more time in a competition vs restaurant service) or more sophisticated ingredients if it was a family recipe. This meant going into the competition I knew what I was doing, how long it would take and having practiced, what may go wrong and how to fix it. Now you are not going for medal with a dinner party but you still don’t want to spend time making food for it to be a bit average because it took a wrong turn.

imok_confused.jpg

2. Keep it simple but take it up a notch

Simple doesn’t have to be boring. Sometimes the most complicated looking foods are actually a series of quite simple steps put together elegantly. Many a time I  have looked at a recipe book and thought, ‘how on earth do you make that?’ to be pleasantly surprised when I have read the methods and thought “I can do that, and that and that’, it’s just a case of doing many small steps for an elegant meal.

My advice? Hunt down recipes that are foods you make yourself but done a little differently. Sometimes there will be a garnish or method that changes one aspect to go from eh, to wow!

Consider using egg rings to plate risottos and create a neat circle on the plate, experiment with cutting ingredients a little differently to look a little special, instead of mince for a Shepard’s pie consider diced lamb for a little something something. It doesn’t have to be a big effort to make an impression.

Even something as simple as making your own ice cream to go with an apple pie will elevate it up a notch. Also consider making individual portions of an item for more elegant plating. There are so many lovely ramekins, pots and cups just waiting to hold casseroles, puddings and pies for a dinner party twist.

IMOK_panna cotta finished

3. Plan ahead

Planning ahead is a chef must do. Every day there is a list with a rewrite and scribbles and plans. A function on Saturday? On Monday we will chat about what needs to be ordered, what needs to be done a few days before, the day before and on the day. Think we do it all in the hours beforehand? Think again! There are many items that can be prepared in advance without compromising flavours. Curries, casseroles and stews are sometimes better the day before, vegetables can be topped and tailed, meat can be cut, potatoes peeled, pastry made ready to roll, ice-cream churned all in the days before the guests even arrive.

imok_signature-dish.jpg

4. Check portion sizes

Serves Four. Serves Two. Serves Six. All a good guide but who are these serving sizes for? Children, people on a diet, hungry guests? There is nothing worse that thinking you have enough food for everyone and realising that plates are a little sparse. Weighing your protein and sides and allocating a decent amount per person can go a long way to esnuring each guest have a decent amount of food on their plate. I have gone into detail with this Undercover Chef Tip Post about Weighing the Sides

IMOK_weigh the sides

5. Keep it easy on the day

I am aware the reason most people don’t like to host is the feeling you will be in the kitchen more than out with the guests. So how to tackle this problem? Choose dishes that can either be

– plated in advance i.e antipasto platters, salads without dressings

– kept warm in the oven i.e roasts, pies, lasagnas, some puddings

– don’t take long to assemble i.e bruschetta mix can be made ready to spoon onto crusty bread when guests arrive, fish can be pan fried whilst it’s vegetable casserole accompaniment is warming in the oven, a steak bbq whilst the plates of salad are ready in the fridge

The idea is to have as much ready as possible before your guests arrive to ensure you get to enjoy the night as much as they do

If you are wanting to use something like a pork or eye fillet consider pre sealing it so all it needs is a flash in the oven to be plate ready in no time.

Have water already boiling but sitting at a simmer so if you need to cook pasta it is ready to go. –

The more you can have planned ahead the more confident you will feel on the day

IMOK_me and finished lamb

6. How do it look when plated?

I am horribly guilty of this one. I have made a meal, had the idea in my head then gone…hmm…that looks really sad. Nothing is worse than this feeling especially when you have hungry guests waiting.

Again, chefs don’t always go with the first version in their head. Sometimes a colour is off, it needs a different shape, a different burst of flavour or something to make it pop.

How to fix this? Do a test run of sorts. Take your raw ingredients as best you can and try assembling them on the plate to see how it will work. Are the colours exciting or will you need a green herb garnish or some well placed salad leaves? Does the dessert need a puddle of sauce or would a spoon of whipped cream be better? Do the berries need to be cut smaller or are larger pieces ok?

Again, it all comes down to planning and what works for you. Sometimes you will find the dishes you thought would work to serve with don’t really. So you can either borrow new ones, buy some or change up how you present the meal. If you can tackle these questions in advance it can save a lot of heart ache later.

pinacolada icecream

7. Decide if each course will be plated or shared

Share style meals have become more and more popular as hosts have realised that it can take a lot of the stress out of a first time dinner party by creating share style meals that can be put down along a beautifully set table and the guests help themselves.

Of course, plated dining can be an experience in itself but if you are not confident just yet plating up individual meals for 4 or more people start simple and work your way towards this if you choose.

There are so many lovely serving platters and bowls on the market that can be served at the table without detracting from the dinner party vibe. Don’t be afraid to mix and match serving platters for a quirky feel. Match everything if you love it but don’t do a dinner party style for the sake of it, go with what works for you when you have the time to do it and it will feel joyous and fun for everyone.

antipasto

8. Have fun

Having a dinner party is about sharing meals and sharing a space around a table with friends and family. Host a dinner party and have fun and enjoy yourself. It’s not a reality tv competition, everyone is there to enjoy your food and company and enjoy themselves so join in the vibe.

family cooking collage

Love these tips and want to put them into action with a little more help? Send me your ideas and feedback to [email protected] and we can create a fun and easy packages to have you hosting dinner parties in no time.

 

 

 

Baked apple goodness for a winter night

I love vintage tea towels. Especially when they have old school recipes on them that remind you of foods you used to eat when you were young. This was the case with one of my favourites, a cooking with apples tea towel. Bright friendly colours keep you company as you wipe up your dishes but also gave me inspiration for dessert at my friends this week.

As a child dessert wasn’t a bit thing at the end of a meal. Sure there was coffee and biscuits but actual desserts weren’t a big feature so when my mum made her fabulous baked apples everyone was always around the dinner table, the oft used excuses to disappear into teenage bedrooms forgotten. Well for my siblings anyways. Being eight year younger I was always happy to hang around the dinner table with Mum, not having reached the joy of teens years just yet. But I digress. My Dad wasn’t too much of a sweet tooth preferring a slice of cheese and fresh apples after dinner but loved Mum’s baked apples,  so we knew that Dad was in Mum’s good books when they appeared after dinner.  Such a simple dessert but coupled with ice-cream it was such an easy after dinner treat.

Lo and behold my fabulous vintage tea towel featured a similar recipe transporting me back to my childhood. Their recipe also featured glace cherries and brandy made into a sauce with the buttery goodness left behind, a step which I left out because a) I don’t really like glace cherries and b) I thought the caramelised buttery sauce was nice enough without a splash of brandy which I don’t actually have on hand anyways!

So I know I haven’t really revealed the full temptation of a baked apple as yet. Just the title doesn’t really give away the treat it is, so I will explain the very simple method and try and entice you even more. Quite simply, you just core out the apple’s whole, score the skin so it doesn’t burst open and make a mess and then stuff the cavity of the apple with a combination of softened butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. Imagine then baking these stuffed apples for about half an hour in which time the butter and sugar caramelise to a butterscotch sauce at the bottom of the pan and the apple flesh cooks down to a soft, sweet filling. No we are talking hey? Now put that delicious apple into a bowl, top with vanilla ice-cream and enjoy! You can thank me later, don’t worry.

Ingredients (serves four)

4 granny smith apples (these bake really well but if you have a favourite apple by all means use them!)

3 tbsp softened butter

2 tbsp brown sugar

pinch cinnamon

Method

  1. Core out the apples and score the skin
  2. Mix the butter, sugar and cinnamon in a bowl until combined and softened
  3. Spoon and push the butter mix into the cored cavity of the apples
  4. Either place the apples in individual ramekins and on a tray to bake or onto a paper lined tray with the edges folded up to catch the butter sauce
  5. Bake at 180 degrees for about 30 min or until the apples have softened
  6. Remove from oven and serve with vanilla ice-cream. If you have baked them on a tray, put into serving dishes and carefully pour over the remaining sauce sauce from the oven tray.