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Monthly Archives: May 2014

  • How to Host a Vegetarian Dinner Party

    vegetarian dinner party

    Having just celebrated National Vegetarian Week , now is the perfect time to take a look at some of the many delicious and tempting recipes for a vegetarian dinner party. Vegetarians used to dread dinner parties as they ended up eating everything except the meat, but nowadays even hardened meat eaters are starting to realise just how quick, healthy and cheap going veggie can be.

    Not convinced? Why not challenge yourself, your family and your friends to putting together a three-course meal based around vegetarian ingredients? You will be astonished at how easy, not to mention tasty, the exercise is.

    STARTER - Goat’s cheese salad


    Simple to make, this goat’s cheese starter will fool your guests into thinking you spent hours in the kitchen, when they couldn’t be further from the truth. You will need one small goat’s cheese per person (or divide up a larger cheese into individual portions), one bag of baby salad leaves, a handful of cherry tomatoes, halved and a good balsamic dressing.

    Wash your salad leaves in cold running water. One of the best kitchen accessories to help with this task is a salad spinner which dries the leaves in seconds and stops them from wilting.

    Arrange a few salad leaves on your starter plates and top with the tomatoes. Grill the goat’s cheese under a hot grill until they start to melt slightly. Place a goat’s cheese on top of each salad plate and drizzle a little balsamic dressing over before serving.

    MAINS - Risotto Primavera


    Translated as Spring Risotto, this simple and satisfying dish can be enjoyed at any time of the year. If you can’t find asparagus try substituting purple-flowering broccoli stems, although most vegetables work well. Serve the risotto with warm crusty bread and a generous colourful salad and your guests are almost guaranteed to be begging you to part with the recipe!

    To serve 4 people at a vegetarian dinner party you will need:

    4 spring onions chopped, 2 cloves of garlic, chopped, 1 small onion, chopped, 350g Arborio rice, Olive oil, 150g broad beans, shelled. 150g peas, shelled or frozen with 250g asparagus, sliced and 150 ml white wine. Around half a pint of hot vegetable stock, a knob of butter, 100g grated Parmesan cheese with parsley to garnish.

    Begin by melting a little oil in a large frying pan. Add the spring onions, onion and garlic and cook over a low heat for about five minutes until softened. Add the rice and stir well to ensure an even coating of oil over the grains. Pour in the wine and stir with a wooden spoon as the liquid is absorbed by the rice.

    Meanwhile keep adding a couple of spoons of hot stock to the rice whilst stirring for around 10 minutes or so. In a separate saucepan or steamer heat the asparagus for about five minutes before adding the beans and peas. Keep adding hot stock to the risotto and stirring it continuously for a further 10 minutes and then drain the vegetables and add them to the rice.

    Add half the grated parmesan and the butter and stir into the risotto. Pile the rice and vegetables onto plates and top with a sprinkling of fresh parmesan and a scattering of chopped parsley.

    DESSERT - Eton Mess


    Sweet crunchy meringue, ice cream and the indulgence of berries smothered in fresh cream and a swirl of strawberry sauce. Everyone loves an Eton Mess and it’s very easy to make. Try adding fresh raspberries and raspberry sauce, or experiment with other fruit such as blueberries or even pineapples and bananas for a tropical effect.

    For four people you will need:

    Four ready-made meringue nests or shells, four scoops of a good quality vanilla ice cream, a punnet of strawberries, strawberry sauce or liqueur and double cream, whipped.

    One of the few kitchen accessories you will definitely need for this recipe is a good apron, such as the ‘Sorted’ black and yellow version - meringues can get seriously messy as you will discover once you start crushing them!

    Divide the crushed meringues between four dessert glasses and add a scoop of ice cream to each one. Hull and halve the strawberries and divide them between the glasses. Add a generous topping of whipped cream to each glass and top with a drizzle of sauce or liqueur. Enjoy!

    Your guests, family and friends are sure to be absolutely delighted with this easy menu, and what’s the betting that they never even notice the lack of meat? Once you’ve discovered how delicious and filling meat-free recipes can be you might just find yourself choosing the vegetarian option more often.

    Have you hosted a vegetarian dinner party? Share your recipes, tips, advice and experiences below.


  • Top 4 Tasty Bread Treats


    With this year’s Real Breadmaker Week just behind us, maybe it’s time you took another look at the humble loaf. Far from being just the basis for a quick and easy snack, bread is extremely versatile and can be used in many exciting sweet and savoury treats. Here we take a look at the origins of the modern day loaf and show you some different ways in which you can use it in everyday recipes.

    The history of bread

    Bread has been a staple part of our diet for centuries, with evidence of it being baked by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. There was even a form of bread found during the Stone Ages. In the Middle Ages, being a baker had a significant status within a town and there were rules about who could become one.

    The first types of bread used a range of grains and cereals to create different and edible foods. As we’ve evolved and developed our skills and technology, we’ve learned to make bread into a more palatable form that can be enjoyed in many ways. The process became much quicker during the Industrial Revolution, with the development of new machinery. The Chorleywood Bread Process was introduced in 1961 and this is how the majority of UK bread is produced today. The process makes it possible to manufacture bread using wheat with a lower protein. This is beneficial in the UK as the wheat here doesn’t usually have high levels of protein.

    Today bread is enjoyed all over the world and can be made using a variety of different ingredients and types of grain. As well as the traditional white loaf, you could choose from rye or sourdough bread, as well as loaves flavoured with cheeses, spices and fruits. There really is no end to the versatility of bread, which is why it’s so popular. Even leftover bread can be used to make plenty of other dishes.

    This is our pick of the best:

    Bread and Butter Pudding


    This is a classic British pudding that was developed from the traditional Bread Pudding recipe. The first evidence of this dish can be found in the 17th century and it began life as a more luxury form of Bread Pudding. As the middle classes became richer, they were able to afford more staple products in their diet, including eggs and milk. This enabled them to create a custard to pour over the bread, which developed into a Bread and Butter Pudding.

    Today the dish is still seen as a good way of using up a range of types of leftover bread. It is created by placing layers of buttered bread in a dish along with raisins or other dried fruits. A custard is made using a mixture of milk, sugar and eggs, which can be flavoured with spices like nutmeg, vanilla and cinnamon. The custard mixture is poured over the bread and then baked.

    Summer Pudding


    This is another British sweet that has made a come back in the past few years thanks to its popularity with celebrity chefs. The original forms of the pudding were found during the 19th century and it was originally made using raspberries and redcurrants.

    To make a Summer Pudding you layer slices of white bread within a round bowl and then cover with fruit juice and summer fruits, such as raspberries, blackcurrants, strawberries and blackberries. It’s then left overnight so that all the juices soak into the bread. When it’s ready to serve, the pudding is turned upside down on a plate.



    Strata is an American inspired dish that is often served for brunch and has similarities with the frittata or quiche. The main ingredient in the savoury treat is bread, which is used to produce separate layers. This was first seen at the start of the 20th century, when it was originally made using a white sauce instead of the now traditional eggs.

    A simple Strata can be made by having layers of bread alongside cheese and a mixture of eggs and milk. The dish is then baked in the oven until golden brown. There are many different ways in which you can add your own touch to this dish, by including a variety of vegetables or meat, such as bacon, chicken, ham, mushrooms and spinach.



    The origins of Fondue can be found in France, Switzerland and Italy. It has had many different forms, but the modern day variation was first seen in the 19th Century. It was originally made in the towns, rather than the mountain areas, using cheeses such as Gruyere. It became popular in America in the 1960s and 1970s when people took to holding fondue parties.

    The melted cheese for a fondue is made with either Emmental or Gruyere cheeses, which are added to a mixture of white wine and corn flour. They are melted until it forms a smooth mixture. Any type of bread can be cut into pieces using a sharp knife, such as the Jamie Oliver bread knife, and then dipped into the melted cheese.

    Next time you’ve got some bread to use up, why not try one of these recipes or create your own variation.

  • The Ultimate Wedding Gift Guide


    It’s wedding season once again, which means not only fussing about your outfit but also worrying what gift to get the newly married couple. Whereas some couples compile a wedding list, making buying a gift relatively simple, many others opt for the element of surprise.

    In fact, statistics uncovered by a First Direct Survey show that 22 per cent of couples register an official wedding list. One fifth of couples want the guest to choose a gift while 19 per cent decide they would prefer not to receive a gift at all.

    For those people who are attending a wedding with no specified gift list, it can be a difficult process, as many couples tend to live together before they are married. We have compiled a gift guide to help you make your decision.



    The first question to ask is what constitutes a great gift? Consider their individual personalities, hobbies and what you think they would really appreciate.

    Talk to the bride and groom about what they want out of their wedding gifts. This will give you some pointers as to what practical homewares and gifts, if any, they would like. A good idea for acquaintances, family or colleagues is something that combines practicality with a special sentiment, such as a gift that can be used but maybe only for special occasions.

    Think outside of the box and go for an exciting or unusual present, or simply something that will help them remember their big day such as a coffee subscription, wine tasting course or an instant digital camera so they can capture special moments. This then saves you from the dreaded situation of giving a duplicate present!

    Your in-depth knowledge of a close relative or best friend should help get those creative juices flowing. A good tip is to be personal and to go the extra mile, such as picking a gift that references a particular event or time in your life. Photo albums, jewellery or a course for something they have always wanted to learn, are sure to get you extra brownie points.

    If in doubt, giving a gift voucher to use at their favourite restaurant or to buy some much needed home furnishing will always go down well. Food and drink gifts are also a popular wedding gift choice - even a luxury hamper or a great bottle of champagne!



    Research shows that 35 per cent of engaged couples ask for cash instead of traditional wedding presents. However, this presents a whole new dilemma - how much do you give?

    People spend an average of £47 on a wedding gift. Under 24-year-olds are the most generous, spending an average of £48, followed by the over 55s, who spend £56, and then 35 to 54-year-olds, who spend around £39. This means that you may want to give a similar amount in the form of cash, although some wedding experts say that you should give more than this if you choose to use money as a gift for someone close to you.

    Anja Winika, site director for wedding planning website The Knot, says the amount you give should be dependent on the relationship you have with the bride. She recommends giving between £45 and £60 to a distant relative, friend or co-worker, between £60 and £75 for an average friend or relations, and at least £60 to £90 for a close friend or relative. You may also want to give a larger gift if you are taking a guest with you to the wedding. Conversely, it is acceptable to give less if you have spent a lot of money already on just attending the wedding.

    Instead of asking for cash or a cheque, come couples nowadays will set up special accounts at stores, such as Selfridges Celebration service, which allows people to pay in money which can then be spent by the couple.



    Now that the tricky part is over, it’s now left to when you should present your gift to the bride and groom. This very much depends upon the type of wedding it is but, generally, it can be a good idea to give your present to a close friend or relative of the couple, rather than the pair themselves. It is also perfectly acceptable to send your gift or money before the wedding to save having to deal with it on the day. In terms of etiquette, you also have up to a year after the wedding to give your gift, although, in practice, this should be done much sooner than that.

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