Tuesday, 13 November 2012

atCatharines Throwing a Dinner Party Tips

After much happening this year with Kat's house improvements and me getting up the duff, we finally get to host a dinner atCatharines a couple of weeks ago and boy did we come back with a bang. We fed 17 diners and the first one to leave was at midnight to which she quietly admitted to me that she normally would have stayed out longer if it wasn't for her hangover!! At 37 weeks pregnant, I was ready to go to bed 3 hours ago, I was glad of her hangover. Despite having acute back pain that night, I was content and proud! This is what we are about atCatharines. We love to entertain and come what may that's what we do best!

We are sad to say that it will be a few more months yet before we get to host another one again given the imminent arrival of baby Coombes but as it is nearing Christmas, we thought we might equip you with a few entertaining tips for the festive season. Not long ago, I heard on the news that Pippa Middleton has published a book called 'Celebrate' and I looked it up on the internet for the reviews which I have to admit it was notoriously unkind and downright rubbish. I haven't read the book but I have read some of the extracts that people has included and I must admit that it does sound 'unnecessary'. So if you are thinking of hosting any parties, I would not waste my money and here are some practical useful tips and it has worked for us.

1) Decide on your menu
Whether it is a sit down meal or buffet, it is always good to decide on what to feed people. Choose something that you can make in advance and you are confident in making, it doesn't need to be the entire menu but as much as you can. People always say choose a safe menu, I agree to a point but what's the fun in that?!? Feel free to cook something that is not in your repertoire. They are your guests, hopefully all good friends otherwise you won't invite them anyway so experiment on them! But one thing that you have to sure of is your confidence that you can pull it off. I know I can't pull off souffles for 17 so I am not going to try!

Make sure your menu doesn't use up too much oven space for example choose mash potato instead of roast potatoes. Perhaps a cold starter instead of hot. You get the idea? Unlike a professional kitchen, a normal household will only have a single oven.

2) Write down the list of ingredients/ decorations
Lists are essential so that you can go out and buy what you need and not what you might want. Try to buy loose ingredients so that you are not wasting what you do not use in a pack. For example buy one or two chillies rather than a pack. Search through your purse to see if you have any vouchers from certain supermarkets and put them to good use when doing a big shop!

3) Write down a list for the things you need to prepare and decide on a timeline
If you have things to make in advance, decide when you will make it, what else need to be done and tick it off the list as you go along. You can make it as detail as you want it to be.

Sample list assuming party day Saturday:
Starter: Chicken Caesar salad
Friday - Roast chicken
Sat - Wash leaves, grate Parmesan

Main - Chilli con carne
Thursday - Make chilli
Sat - Boil rice, serve with sour cream

Dessert - Chocolate tart
Make tart Friday evening
Sat - Serve with vanilla ice cream

Sat am
Hoover downstairs
Get flowers
Set up table
Get decorations up
Ask husband to clear up his muddy boots in the hallway

4) Count plates, cutlery and glasses. Make sure you have enough
There is nothing more irritating than scrambling for forks and glasses when your guests are here so make sure you have enough so you are not running around trying to find them last minute. Separate them so that you know what you need and when. If you need 5 plates for starter, put 5 plates out so it is there when you need to dish up and join your guests. Savvy?

5) Put out wine openers and ice buckets
Let your guests help themselves to opening the wines or beers. Show them where to get their glasses and ask them to hold on to them.

6) Change into a posh frock
After all, you do not want to look like you have been dragged through the mills. It is a party after all!

7) Be there to greet your guests
Wait until some guests have arrived before you excuse yourselves to prep the food. Remember, hosting a dinner party is not a sprint. You can take your time. If your kitchen allows it, get your guests to come to the kitchen while you prepare the food.

8) Washing up
Very simple, dishwasher. I don't know what I will do without one. Oh and leave it till the next day. Go and have fun and get drunk with your guests. Of all things, washing up can jolly well wait!

Lastly have fun. There is no point in throwing a party when you are not enjoying it.

Cat & Kat xx

Friday, 28 September 2012

Home Sweet Home.....

This is suposed to be a food blog I know, lots of lovely posts about food and cooking and all the lovely things that go with it....but its going to turn into an interior design / DIY blog for a moment but bare with me, because it’s all heading towards lots more cooking ventures!  - or it will in the next blog! While Cat has spent hours trawling the internet looking for new and exciting recipes to try, lovingly turning down the corners of magazine pages with recipes she wants to revisit, I have done the same thing, only with interior design magazines and I have been googling ‘tiles’ and ‘Cooker Hoods’ and ‘Kitchens’ and ‘Bathrooms’ for what seems like years, which is why there has been a deafening silence from us for a while.

We have been out of action for some time, well, since June anyway...which is, I must admit, largley my fault. It is extremley flattering to know that the lack of atCatharines events hasn’t gone entirely unnoticed over the last couple of months, it has been amazing to have people emailing to find out when the next dinner is...and it's coming we promise!

Almost exactly two and a half years ago I moved into what has turned into the atCatharines headquarters, kitchen and function space. When I moved in on a chilly March day in 2010 my poor house looked a little bit sorry for itself, so after quite a lot of knocking down walls, building steps, and hours of painting, paving and purchasing the house had turned into the atCatharines venue that we know and love (well Cat and I know and love!) and this year was the turn of the Kitchen and the Bathroom, both of which needed a little bit of TLC before they gave up on me!

The first subtle clue that something really needed to be done was a suspicious stain, gently growing on the kitchen ceiling, just below the shower tray, and so I started the rounds of googling, visits to Topps Tiles, and Homebase and Wickes and Victoria Plumb, and after much too-ing and fro-ing and about a million emails between myself and an incredibly patient builder and then a little while living with an entire bathroom suite residing in the lounge;

the bathroom went from this....

to this....

And then it was the turn of the Kitchen... The kitchen has, to be honest, served us very, very well, and produced things even I was surprised by. "I knew we were good, but i didn't know we were that good" has been used a couple of times as the oven has opened, mostly with reference to Cat's creations admittedly. 
However it was, on occasion almost impossible to work with, cooking for 17 people with the amount of work suface space we had was, at times, a little bit of a challenge, and to be honest plating up was, well, to all intents and purposes impossible, but we managed it, and loved (almost) every moment it! It was a little bit like saying goodbye to a much loved old friend, but it has gone to a good home, where hopefully its life will continue long into the future!  


And so, with the departure of the old kitchen a new, upgrade kitchen landed, (unfortunately) once again in my living room, closely followed by two lovely builders who got to work.

So we are all set, with a shiny new cooker and a million times more cupboards and work surface space, fully functioning lights and all sorts of bells and whistles, and it's full steam ahead, we are ready and raring to welcome everyone back to the table! Watch this space for the next date atCatharines!

xx Kat & Cat

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Szechuan Inspiration

Well the rain hasn't stayed away. Thank god for the Olympics I'd say. I was one of the sceptics, I am afraid, about London hosting the Olympics after the success of Beijing. Most people I would say were thinking the same especially the opening ceremony. Even so I waited patiently anticipating the worse. It was not as impressive as Beijing but it really showcase England. Who can forget the appearance of the Queen and for a spilt second thought she might just jump out of the plane with Daniel Craig or the appearance of our Mr Bean! Hilarious and a stroke of genius. Some of the world might not get the humour but I certainly very much enjoyed it and I had tears of laughter watching it.

The weather might not be great but I have been too busy to notice as I was glued to the TV watching every sport available. There was only programme that tore me away for an hour, the new Ken Hom and Ching He Huang China culinary adventure. I love this programme as it would be my dream job. Exploring new places and their culinary differences. Last week they explored Szechuan food. Szechuan food is spicy but a very special heat what the Chinese called 'Ma Lat'. It is a very well rounded heat and the predominant ingredient for Szechuan food, apart from chillies, is Szechuan peppercorns.

In the programe they featured a dish called Ma Po Tofu which is one of my favourite dishes. Made with silken tofu and spicy bean paste, it is a delicious with rice. In the recipe below, I have modified the dish to incorporate what I learnt from the programme and what i think might go well.

Ma Po Tofu

200g minced pork, marinated in cornflour,white pepper, soya sauce and pinch of sugar
1 pack of silken tofu
1 can of water chestnuts and bamboo shoots ( you can get this in your normal supermarket on the Asian aisle), dice the chestnuts and slice the shoots
100g beans, diced
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Dash of soya sauce
A pinch of crushed Szechuan peppercorns
4 tablespoons of spicy bean paste (Lee Kum Kee does a very good one, you can get this in Chinese supermarket)
Dash of water

1) Heat wok until smoking, add oil and stir fry paste and garlic for 30 seconds
2) Add chestnuts, shoots and beans, stir fry until soft
3) Add pork and continue to fry until cooked
4) Add peppercorns then water & soya sauce
5) Finally add tofu and check seasoning. Cook through and the sauce will thicken
6) Serve with fluffy white rice

I also serve with a side dish so easy to make but visually attractive and tastes divine, Ping's sexy fry eggs

What you need to do is to stir fry sliced spring onions, sliced ginger and chilles until soft, sprinkle over fried eggs and add a generous amount of kecap manis ( sweet soya sauce). The fan brand is the best and you can find it in Waitrose or any Chinese supermarket.

Happy cooking!

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

My little luxuries...

We all have it, them, the guilty pleasures, the little luxuries in life. Apart from the much talked about 50 shades of Gray, oh yeah, Mr Gray bring it on, you will pleased to know there are other luxuries to be had. I found a couple last week.

A friend of mine and I decided to go to Bristol Food Festival and the sun even shone on Sunday for us. Admittedly it is not Italy's 33 degrees sun but hey we are in England! We had a fantastic day and I found lots of goodies and one of the most interesting this year is the Ginseng liqueur, if it wasn't for the gigantic ferrero rocher ice cream I had, I would have gone for a Ginseng cocktail! I couldn't have devoured a single thing even if I now eat for two! Those two very generous and insane ice cream vendors had loads to answer for. We attended a Martin Blunos talk and my god that man can talk, full of interesting facts but left us not wanting more. It felt like info overload. That lasted for an hour and we try to walk off our ice cream, I came across the Cornish Sea Salt Co. I was like a kid in a sweet shop. I love salt and I have always wanted to get some but just couldn't justify how much they cost in the farm shop, £3.99 for 125g! They were doing a good deal on the salt which included all the different salt pots. Well £13.50 later I walked away with not one but 7 pots of various sizes of salt! Bargain! Like I said you got to have some luxuries in life.

I found another little gem on Morrison's special offer aisle, Onken mango, papaya and passionfruit yoghurt for £1.00. Bargain! Creamy, not too sweet, not too acidic and has a very exotic flavour. I had to physically stop myself eating the entire pot. If I do so be it, its healthy ;) Ahh it's the little things that count in life. Rain..what rain! I am going to enjoy this come rain or shine.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

A week in Italy

I came back from sunny Italy a week ago to rain and wind. It was 33 degrees everyday out there and I didn't want to come back. It was too hot really and for some mad reason I did for a split second wish for some rain. That quickly evaporated in the heat!

We went to Rome, Siena, San Miniato, Pisa and Lucca. Through these parts of Italy, we experienced a journey on our tastebuds from a simple sandwich of ham and mozzarella to regional dishes of Senese pork. It was fair to say we ate very well during this holiday and as a result my husband, Andrew, was told in A & E that he had developed gout when we went in suspecting a stress fracture on his swollen foot!

In Rome, the food was more mainstream, food that we are familiar with in the UK. Pizza, pasta and gelato. Ahh yes gelato, you just can't get enough of it. So many flavours and we had one everyday if not two. If you ever go to Rome, visit the gelataria just by the Trevi fountain. What they say about Italy is true. A country of very gorgeous men (until they open their mouths), pizza, pasta and gelato. However there is so much more to Italian food. We only tasted a small proportion of what Italy has to offer. We had been before as poor students so this time we did splash out on various restaurants. In Rome, my favourite is a restaurant called Eleonora D'Arborea ( you can find it on Trip Advisor). It is a Sardinian restaurant specialising in fish and shellfish where they served me the most delicious Lobster linguine washed down with a chilled glass of Vermentino.

After Rome we made our way to Siena where there is a speciality I was dying to try again, Pici. It is a pasta special to that region. It is thick noodle like pasta with the texture similar to Udon noodles. We went to very rustic restaurant Osteria del Gatto where the waiter didn't speak much English and the menu is in Italian and very limited, brilliant!!  We found Pici with wild boar sauce followed by fillet of pork wrapped with ham with a stuffing of apricots and nuts.

In Siena, we also found a restaurant that champions Sienese local produce, Osteria Enoteca Sotto le Fonti. We started the meal with the most impressive charcuterie board I have ever had! There were at least 10 different types of cold meats with pecorino and homemade relishes. I especially like the thin slices of lard on crispy bread. These pigs I was told run around in their backyard! Then it was followed by perfectly cooked steak with generous shavings of black truffle. 

Then we were off to San Miniato for one of my good friend's wedding where we found a little restaurant situated on the edge of the hills, Osteria L'Upupa where our taste buds continued to find surprising flavours. We had the most amazing risotto of courgettes, pancetta and porcini to start followed by steak with porcini and the most intense Senese pork stew with pine nuts. The porcini was so fat and juicy and the pork is so tender as the meat is layered with a good amount of fat that melts in your mouth. 

Yes now you know the reason Andrew might have developed gout! Lots of meat and not much vegetables! Luckily I was eating for two so it was absorbed by my baby, thank god. Well not all the food we ate was heavy, we came across some very tasty snacks like the gigantic pizza we had for lunch one day and the biggest arancini I have ever come across.

It was our last trip abroad until I give birth to our bundle of joy so we did give it a good go in terms of things we did and restaurants we visited. I think it should last us for a good few weeks until my tan subsides! I would recommend Italy if you love food, it is not just pasta and pizza although the quality of them far exceeds what we can find in the UK. 

Monday, 18 June 2012

Salads and BBQ Out!!

Let's face it, the weather is terrible and it is pissing it down. The occasional times when the sun is out, we are hopeful perhaps summer is on its way. Supermarkets are stocking more salads and BBQ ingredients, flip flops are out as if to say 'the sun is just behind those black clouds'. It is not quite summer yet for me and I am already salads and bbq out!

I am currently 18 weeks preggers and I am constantly hungry. Given that I just came back from culinary Hong Kong and Malaysia, salads and bbq just doesn't do it for me. Inspired by what I had in those two countries, wanting to remain hopeful that the sun is coming out and satisfy my taste buds and waistline, I have created a dish which is light and can be eaten come rain or shine. It is very simple and you can have this in 10 minutes. You can also do this in a traditional steamer but doing it a microwave is just as good.

Ping's Steam Salmon

2 salmon fillet
2 sprigs of spring onions roughly chopped
one small knob of ginger sliced
handful of coriander, chopped
1 tablespoon of vegetable or peanut oil
1 teaspoon of sesame oil
Mix together in a bowl:
1 1/2 tablespoon of soya sauce
1 tablespoon of Shaoxing rice wine( use sherry as a replacement)
1 teaspoon sugar
A dash of water

1) Put salmon in a microwavable bowl, sprinkle with sliced ginger
2) Pour your mixture onto the fish
3) Cling film the bowl, put it in the microwave for 2 mins on high heat, depending on the size of the fillets
4) Remove from the microwave, sprinkle spring onions and coriander, cover and return to microwave for another 2 minutes. Check to see if fillets are cooked through, if not continue until cook through. Check regularly.
5) Meanwhile heat up the vegetable & sesame oil until smoking hot
6) Pour hot oil onto fish. It will sizzle, be careful when pouring. Serve immediately with white fluffy rice.

Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Hong Kong - Food Heaven, Property Hell

As I was organising my photos from Hong Kong, 90% of them are of food! I realised how I much I had put away in the 6 days I was there. The taste of the roasted pigeon I had on my first day there is still very much lingering at the back of my mind. I do however wish I can put my hand up and order some right now! We arrived in Hong Kong quite late and my brother had arranged to come and pick us up. We checked into the hotel and were straight out again to Sha Tin where it is famous for roasted pigeons. After a long flight I did contemplate not going and opt for something quicker as Hong Kong is not short of delicious and convenient street food. Every corner you turn, there seem to be some vendors or small restaurants. We marched on all sticky and hungry. We sat down and within minutes food started arriving, my mouth and hands couldn't keep up with how fast they were coming out. Deep fried crispy fish that resembled pencils, succulent large clams, deep fried calamari but not the ones you get in this country, flash fried various vegetables, clay pot aubergines and finally the pigeons arrive freshly roasted. We were given plastic gloves. Note at this point we were half way through the array of dishes and I put away 1 1/2 pigeon on my own! The pigeons were twice the size of what you can find in this country. That was Day 1!

Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan city very much like London in a lot of ways. It is smaller and everywhere you look you are dominated by high rise buildings. I have worked in central London so city like this shouldn't phase me but I have to admit Hong Kong intimidated me in a way. Life is hectic, basic politeness seem to go amiss as time is of the essence and they have no time for pleasantries. They get to the point which can appear rude. While older generations struggle for pensions in this country, older generations there are millionaires due to clever investment in property. If you think getting on the property ladder here is difficult, over in Hong Kong is near impossible. Andrew and I woke up one morning and while waiting for my family to go on yet another eating spree, we decided to do 'property porn! We had a massive shock, while £30 million can buy you a mansion in Kensington, it may get you a house with 4-5 bedrooms outskirts of Hong Kong. Needless to say, all hopes of moving to Hong Kong were quickly squashed!

Even though the property in Hong Kong isn't it's most positive feature but the food is and the only thing that makes me wish I can live there. There are plenty of eateries to suit your budget. The thing that fascinated me wasn't the array of restaurants but the array of 'tai pai tong' (street vendors). I can perhaps compare them to Spanish tapas restaurant but most of them are outdoors or occupy a very small space within a building. Each street vendor has their speciality and you generally move from one vendor to another, the most common associated with Hong Kong are curry fish ball, beef tripe, stinky bean curd, pearl ice tea and as time goes on more innovative dishes! They provide a cheap alternative to going to restaurants. We did try some of them. I fondly recall Andrew's distaste for the stinky bean curd!

The wet markets in Hong Kong are second to none. There are stalls selling day to day groceries, dried seafood stalls which supplies delicacies like abalone and the formidable sharks fin, roast meat stall for roast pork and duck, fresh meat, vegetables and seafood are all readily available. I spent hours walking around wising I can buy it all. If the wet market intimidates you, there are also well equipped supermarkets which cater from Asian, Western and even Mediterranean.

I hope everyone will get to experience Hong Kong especially if you are prepared to go on a culinary and culture adventure.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

A Semi Civilised Sunday Lunch.....


A little while ago now, around the time the hosepipe ban was announced, before we all started wearing our wellies to work, donning cagoules every time we thought about leaving the house and before buying a canoe became a serious consideration, 11 lovely people gathered in the Sunday Sunshine for a lovely laid back Sunday Lunch atCatharines.

Cat has, on a number of occasions expressed her loathing of Sundays, time ticking away and before you know it the alarm wakes you up on a Monday morning ready for another week of work; so in order to attempt to dispel that foreboding we decided that for once, rather than hiding ourselves away in the Kitchen we would serve up more of a ‘help yourselves’ sort of a lunch and took a seat at the table to join in the fun - and the Bloody Mary’s – which were, we must admit, really rather good (and moreish.)

We were up, bright and early on Sunday morning, (which was in itself something of a novelty for some!)  Chopping and roasting and steaming and basting various yummy delicacies to serve. Given that this was our first Sunday lunch, we thought it only right to serve up a Roast, although, given that this is atCatharines, there were a few less traditional bits and pieces thrown into the mix!

With Bloody Marys in hand our guests tucked into paprika and brown sugar roasted peanuts, prosciutto and olives to whet their appetites.

To start we had                                  
                                                           'Asparagus Mimosa’ 

(steamed Asparagus, tossed in a little bit of butter, served with a crushed boiled egg, garlic and butter dressing)

And then 
Sticky slow roast belly pork, wilted spring greens with chilli and garlic, roasted baby new potatoes and carrots and juicy braised onions.

After what I have to say, was a fascinating conversation about the origins of spring greens and what exactly the different was between cabbage and another variety of cabbage like greenery, the origin and type of which of which I have now forgotten (I think it might have been Suisse Chard) during which I (Kat) demonstrated my total lack of insight and knowledge and was put to shame by some of our more green fingered guests it was time for Pudding.

Chocolate Pave, poached pears and sharp pear jelly.

So there we have it, Sunday Lunch atCatharines!
But it didn’t end there!  
At about 8pm with a number of guest still sitting at the table with us, a sort of second meal of leftovers emerged, and  I think I realised then  just what a joy Sunday Lunch is, and the left over picky bits – they make you realise just how good round 1 was! 

We'll let you know all the details of the next event atCatharines soon! xxx  

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Taste of Malaysia...

Two weeks ago we hosted a Malaysian evening. To those of you who don't know, part of the Cat and Kat empire, Cat is Malaysian aka moi! I have always wanted to introduce Malaysian food to my diners and thanks to Kat's adventurous nature, she was as enthusiastic as I am. I didn't just want to introduce Malaysian food, I want to bring my childhood, what I grew up eating and what I have learnt so far from my travels to my diners. Given that I am also of Chinese origin, my cooking is a fusion between the best of Malay and Chinese spices and ingredients. In short, the food we served cannot be easily found in any Malaysian restaurants.

As excited as we are about hosting the evening, we had a restaurant critic turning up and although nervous as we are, we are thoroughly thrilled that not only someone wants to taste our food but to actually write about it. As some of the dishes might sound foreign to you, I will try to describe them as best I could.

Chinese crispy roast pork
Marinated sweet, sour and spicy cucumber

Gado - Gado
A warm salad of beans, potatoes, beansprouts, carrots, topped with prawn crackers and homemade satay sauce. Although sounds bland, the combination of vegetables with different textures is refreshing and exceedingly moorish. It is crunchy, succulent, soft and crispy and then all those textures are brought together with the spicy and rich satay sauce

Ping's Special Water Dumpling 'Shui Gau'
Ping is my Chinese name and that is what my husband and my parents call me. The dumpling has fillings of minced pork, 'wood ear' mushrooms, shitake mushrooms, water chestnuts and my secret (shhh...) special seasoning. These dumplings are cooked in a light chicken broth, finished with dash of sesame oil and a sprinkle of spring onions. 

'Kari' Mee
This is a typical street food in Malaysia. You probably work out that the dish is something to do with curry. It is a bowl of noodles with variety of goodies and they sit in an aromatic curry broth. Different stalls serves it different garnishes. I did mine with poached chicken, fried tofu and roast pork. To finish it off, a squeeze of lime and mint! 

Pre dessert of chilli and lime granita

Kat's homemade lime tart, coconut ice cream

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Private Tea Party atCatharines....

I had a phone call from a very good friend of mine and she was organising a hen do and she was frantically trying to find someone who can host a private tea party. Ahhh tea party....There are so many lovely things to say about tea parties. A picture forms in my head as to what a perfect tea party looks like. Tiers and tiers of different morsels but it has to have 2 elements, scones and finger sandwiches. It isn't a tea party otherwise. Well that is only in my humble opinion. Snapped back into reality, I heard myself say 'Yes why not'...then the fun begins. I was a little nervous as I am not a baker or a patisserie chef but I sure am excited about it. One little problem though, I do not have any pretty tea pots or tea cups and saucers. Thankfully they are not fussed about the crockery. Instead I went to the haberdashery to get suitable fabric and my ever so multi talented husband sew it into runners for me! Instead of having white linen and pretty floral teapots I have pretty floral tablecloth and clean crisp cups. We did however manage to borrow some pretty tea cups at the very last minute. Some pink cut roses in dainty candle holders complete the look.

I did some research on tea party food and I found some of the menus offered are very ordinary indeed so I decided to spice it up and add a little zing to the traditional fare. I love the pretty crockery but in reality, the food is the priority for me. This is a girl who prefers to play with guns rather than barbies so you see..practical!!

This is our nearly perfect private tea party

Apple and lime non alcoholic mojito
Homemade scones, homemade strawberry jam, clotted cream
Vienesse swirls
Millionaire shortbread
Lemon curd tart, vanilla cream
Minky Kitten scrumptious chocolate cake, handmade roses
Thoughtful beetroot  bread sandwiches with homemade mackerel pate, peashoots
Cat's special minted cider marinated cucumber sandwiches
Homemade quail Scotch eggs
Kranskaka (Norwegian giant almond wedding cake)

The hen party brought their own prosecco, bunting, balloons and carefully thought out goodie bags and a bundle of laughs. That my friend is a perfect tea party......

If you want to host a private tea party and don't want to do it at your own home, contact us as we love to host one for you.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Valentine's Gifts

Valentine's day is looming and you are either looking forward to it or dreading it. I think it affects the male and female differently. Women spend the entire day expecting something, be it a bunch of flowers, card or being taken out to dinner or all of the three mentioned. Guys who are in a new relationship are keen to impress by being especially romantic and guys who are in a long term relationship or married thinks 'I can't be bothered but I have to' or else their life is not worth living.

To be honest I don't care much for Valentine's Day myself. I like the idea of a day celebrated by lovers but I cannot stand the whole marketing of it. Restaurants are filled with couples who hardly speak to each other, roses are 3 - 4 times the normal price and cards and teddy bears are in abundance!

We made a vow not to go out to a restaurant and no flowers and certainly no bloody teddy bears! I can just about do cards. However, it is tradition in our house that Andrew (my long suffering husband) cook a meal for me. It has been done for the past 10 years. This is a perfect excuse for him to show off his culinary skills and also to let me know he is a much better cook! ;-) I find it very sweet as this is his way to show appreciation for me and for our relationship. I truly believe that some gifts are better made than bought. Therefore, if you want to put some effort into making a gift for your loved one, follow the recipe below. 

Love Hearts Melting Moments

Makes about 60 cookies
You can half the recipe or you can always give these away as gifts. Doesn't have to be only for Valentine's Day. These cookies are very versatile, you can make them into different shapes by using other cutters. 

600g flour
250g icing sugar
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 teaspoon soda bicarbonate
2 teaspoon salt
250g (your choice if nuts, my favourite are cashews), chopped
350ml sunflower oil

Heart shaped cutters
Baking trays - oiled

1) Sieve flour and icing sugar into a mixing bowl
2) Add baking powder, soda bicarbonate, salt and nuts
3) Mix well and gradually add the oil
4) The dough should be wet enough to stick together but not too wet that it sticks to your fingers
5) Don't worry if the dough seems a bit crumbly, it creates the melting sensation when cook
6) Flour the surface. Roll out the dough into 1 cm, use a heart shaped cutter to cut out the cookies. Arrange the hearts on a baking tray.
7) Repeat until all the dough is used up

Tips: Package your hearts into lovely boxes. Wrap them up with tissue paper and handmade ribbons.
Paperchase sells some lovely boxes and The Makery sells lovely ribbons. My favourite one is a ribbon that says 'Made with Love' (in picture)

Happy Valentines Day x

Monday, 23 January 2012

Year of the Dragon - Chinese New Year 2012

We welcome the year of the dragon with the news that there might be a baby boom this year. A lot of people want a Dragon baby as they believe babies born this year will be far more superior than any other babies born in a different year. Dragon symbolises the Emperor therefore the superiority. With the recession this year and this belief, many people will get busy!

I was born in the year of the Rooster and most compatible with Dragon so I am happy. I hope to god this year is going to be a good one. However being a mum might be quite away yet. I decided to welcome the year of the Dragon with a good party. We have one every year and this year is no different. We get a few friends together and invite them to join in the festivities. We treated our friends to deep fried ginger chicken wings, roasted Dragon meat (Chinese roast pork), festive salad with raw salmon, Bulgogi ribs, pork and mushroom dumplings and prawn crackers. We also have red packets that we give to our friends. We put scratch cards in every one and Louisa won £10 this year. I miss my family most during this time of the year so it was lovely to have close friends around and celebrate life with them.

If you would like to celebrate any occasion with your nearest and dearest, the recipe below is fit for an emperor.

Roast Dragon Meat (Chinese Roast Pork) 

1.5 kg boneless pork belly
For the dry rub
2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon ground roasted Szechuan peppercorns
2 teaspoons five spice powder
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons sugar

Note: The pork is prepared the day before

1) Pierce the skin with sharp knife or fork until the skin is covered with fine holes
2) Boil some hot water in a large pan. Hover the meat over the boiling water with a meat hook or large fork. Use a ladle and pour hot water on the skin several times. Set pork aside
3) Heat the wok and stir fry the ingredients for the dry rub for 3 minutes until well incorporated. Set aside to cool
4) Rub it all over the meat side of the pork
5) Put the meat on a wire rack and dry in the fridge overnight or at least for 8 hours
6) Preheat the oven to 200 C. Put the pork in the pre heated oven on a rack over a roasting tin of water. Roast for 15 minutes then reduce the temperature to 180 C and then continue for 2 hours. 
7) Turn up to 230 C for the final 15 minutes of cooking.

Note: I serve it by cutting it into bite size and chilli sauce. This makes good canapĂ© or snack over a glass of wine or ice cold beer. This is a very popular bar snack in Asia. To make a meal out of the roast pork, you can serve it with plain boil rice. 

Happy Cooking!