dinner

Feast Days and Homecomings

Feast Days

Hello again!  It’s been a rollercoaster couple of weeks here, with my day-job taking me away on extended travels to India followed by heady reunions back home (things to remember always; the ‘welcome back mummy!’ signs tied to trees and gates all along our lane…).  I’ve spent the last few days playing catch-up, so this weekend was a chance to kick-back and relax with friends, hosting at home.  My best friend just scored a fantastic new job, so we took the opportunity to celebrate.  It was my favourite kind of meal; a small group of the loveliest of people, with a touch of style but no airs and graces, and the kind of menu that doesn’t suffer unduly if (umm, when) the wine flows too freely…

Preparation is everything, so Harry and I made a batch of parmesan and cracked black pepper oatcakes to go with cheese at the end of the evening.  I used this recipe which early readers of my blog will remember, and added a cupful of grated parmesan and a liberal dash of black pepper to the dough; they taste delicious and yet are extraordinarily simple…

Parmesan and Black Pepper Oatcakes

My other make-ahead element was individual heart-shaped Tartes au Citron, using ready-made pastry for speed.  Blind-bake your pastry and then beat together 5 eggs, 150ml double (heavy) cream, 150g caster sugar and the juice of 3 lemons, plus the zest of one lemon.  Pour into the case and bake for around 30mins if you’re making a single large tart or 15 mins for individual ones; this quantity will make you one large tart or 6 smaller ones.  I dusted with icing sugar and added fresh raspberries, serving with the leftover cream.

tarte au citron with raspberries

Asparagus is everywhere right now, enjoying its short but intense season.. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to use it, so served up a generous handful, steamed until just tender and topped with a poached egg and crumbled, grilled pancetta.  It’s a divine combination but definitely a make-in-the-moment dish; choose friends who will happily perch at chairs whilst you cook, topping up your glass and ignoring any eggshells you drop. Friends who can also be trusted not to eat all your crispy pancetta when your back is turned as you plate up the rest…

asparagus and pancetta

For the main course I grilled rustic lamp-burgers in ciabatta rolls on wooden chopping boards like these, topped with goats cheese, fig jam and served with a generous portion of oven-baked parmesan fries, from a recipe found here; you can almost convince yourself they’re healthy, though they tasted good enough to feel sinful.

To add a little style to the table I spritzed the tips of a handful of white feathers with spray glue and poured platinum glitter over them, before shaking off; they caught the light and sparkled subtly all evening; a 5 minute project which definitely punches above its weight.  (If feathers are your thing by the way, have a look at Pinterest, where they are definitely having a moment; craft projects for headdresses, garlands and gift-tags abound…)

glitter tipped feathers

glitter feathers

Our eclectic recent weather has done wonders for the garden, so I braved the rain to gather a handful of vibrant peonies for a dash of colour;

fresh peonies

And a final party trick; freezing slices of lemon leftover from the tarts into a cupcake tray to form over-sized colourful discs of ice to float in pitchers of water on the table.  Once frozen, I pop any excess discs out of the trays and store bagged up in the freezer for next time.  Smaller fruits like summer berries work beautifully when frozen in regular ice cube trays in the same way.

lemon slices in cupcake trays

Preparations done, it was time to celebrate;  homecomings and new jobs, friendships and feast days.  It’s a holiday weekend here in our small corner of the world, as I know it is for friends across the ocean; I hope that the sun is shining for you, and that summer feels close at hand…

champagne

Back next week for more crafts, and an update on the Great Sunflower Race (yay; we’re back in the game!); let me know how yours are doing if you’re growing them too…

Kate

Champagne on Ice, Dinner at 8…

Some friends you just know are going to be in your lives for the long run, and our former neighbours fall firmly into that category. In the space of just a couple of years we’ve camped out in each others’ kitchens, set the world to rights more times than I care to remember,  celebrated some of life’s great milestones and donned a myriad of fancy dress costumes whilst sinking an inordinate number of bottles of wine – all the usual stuff that bonds you and transcends the superficial differences in age and life stage.  So it was a no brainer that they’d be the first people invited to dinner the moment the new cooker was connected, and last weekend we celebrated in style.

Of course, anyone who has ever had a new kitchen fitted will immediately recognise my amateur error above, namely to throw a dinner party without having even idly flicked through the 368 page cooker manual beforehand, and indeed such a laissez-faire attitude was foolhardy to say the least. The food was certainly eye-watering, but not alas because of its grandeur and finesse but because of the smoke which billowed from the oven and created an atmospheric if throat-constricting backdrop to the evening.

Still, the champagne helped, and the table decor distracted – I made these personalised placemats earlier in the day using a basic graphics programme and some vintage cutlery clipart, before adding a touch of silver leaf to the knife and fork to catch the light from the candles on the table.  Stencilling the initials of our friends on these slate tags below with a chalk pen made for unique (and wipe-clean) napkin rings, into which I tucked a sprig of rosemary for a flash of colour and a hint of barely discernible scent. Tips and techniques below…

 

For the placemats (I used Powerpoint, but adapt these guidelines for your chosen programme)….

  • Draw a simple coloured square for your background colour, and choose font colour
  • I googled an online dictionary and copied the phonetic layout and invented appropriate descriptors for each guest
  • Either paste your clip-art directly onto the backdrop or carefully print, clip and paste on to each
  • I printed these onto UK A3 sized paper – using recycled paper gave a great matte finish, but normal copy paper would work fine
  • Rub the clip-art image lightly with low-tack glue (I used Pritt-Stick) and brush on a little silver leaf, using a dry brush to remove any excess.
  • Save the template – you can use it infinitely and just change names and descriptors each time – ta da!