Monday, 23 December 2013

Setting a Festive Table

Setting a festive table
Compliments of the season to you all. I hope you're all ready for your big day, whichever big days you plan to celebrate over the holiday season.  I just thought I'd show you a few tips on how to make your table nicely festive without going overboard. Chances are you'll have all the things you need for these ideas, or you can always adapt them to suit what you have.

Setting a festive tableDo you have a colour scheme for your festivities? The dining room in Auntie Anne's house is red this year, mainly because I had a lot of red baubles and plenty of that curling ribbon. I also have a rather smart red table cloth, so I can blend the shades for a co-ordinated look.

I like to have some sort of decoration on the table, but nothing that interferes with the meal. Nothing so tall that it gets in the way of conversation, and nothing so short that it's possible to stand your glass half-way onto it and spill wine on everything.

Setting a festive tableFirst and most important thing to remember is that a special occasion calls for the best crockery, the best cutlery, the posh glasses and whatever you have that normally lives at the back of the cupboard because it isn't for everyday use. You don't have 'best'? Then make sure you polish everything well with a dry tea cloth so it sparkles.

You can see the overall effect of the decorations in the top photo. You'll notice there are festive baubles in various shapes, suspended on curling ribbon and hanging from convenient pictures. What you can't see is that we have a sheet of lights suspended from the ceiling beams. That's not necessary, but it does add a festive touch.

Setting a festive tableTo create a central decorative area on the table I ran a roll of tartan ribbon from end to end. Wrapped around that are strips of curling ribbon, suitably arranged, with the ends run between my thumb and a scissor blade to increase the curls. Then I scattered table confetti (holly leaves) across that. Usually I would also scatter chocolate coins around, so that people could help themselves when it came to coffee and liqueurs, but on this occasion we planned to adjourn to the lounge for that - so I didn't.

Setting a festive tableIndividual place settings had a gift, a nice napkin, and a colour-themed cracker. I also tied some tartan ribbon around the stems of the wine glasses and some tiny red baubles that were meant to be used as gift wrapping, but I had some left over.

Setting a festive tableThen I tied some Christmassy ribbon around the backs of the chairs. I didn't have any more tartan - so it's not the same theme, but I didn't really care. One three-metre roll of wired ribbon was enough for two chairs.

Finally, at the far end of the table I put a large, plain, glass vase with some lights in it. That's very trendy this year, but I've been doing it for a while now. What Auntie Anne does this year the world will do in a while!

One last thing. A table this good needs a meal to match.
Setting a festive table

Monday, 20 May 2013

Photo editing

It seems some people are having a lot of trouble editing photos in Blogger. So I think I might run through a few options to see what you can do.

First of all, there are several ways to upload a photo to Blogger. Most of them you get to by clicking on the little picture icon:
photo editing But not all.......

If you understand html there are other options. But for now, let's look at what happens when you click the little picture.  It offers upload options:
From this blog
From Picasa Web Albums
From your phone
From your webcam
From a URL

Now, some of you will have realised that 'From this blog' and 'From Picasa Web Albums' creates a problem after a while. Blogger limits the amount of space you can have to store your photos and you have to pay for more.
(Unless you've been clever and shrunk all your photos in the first place. I didn't - so I ran out of space pretty quickly and I'm too tight to pay for more.)
You need an app to use your phone. I shall assume if you are capable of uploading an app, you are capable of uploading a photo!
Ditto webcam.
From a URL can be very useful but BEWARE of copyright infringements.

If you have a website elsewhere (like I do) you can use the URL to insert a link.  A URL will look something like this:
and if you paste it into your text, Blogger will automatically make a link to it.
If you paste it into the space given when you use the 'From a URL' option (as above) you'll get this:

Note.  I took the photo. I own the copyright. I also own the rights to the website where it appears. If you don't fulfil those conditions GET PERMISSION before you use the picture.

There is another option.  That photo also appears on (one of) my Flickr site(s).  Flickr can give you a URL for the picture but it can also give you (under the 'share' option) HTML or BBCode.  That looks like this:
<a href="" title="Malmesbury Abbey House - The Wrestlers by historyanorak, on Flickr"><img src="" width="375" height="500" alt="Malmesbury Abbey House - The Wrestlers"></a>

But to use that you need to be in the HTML option at top left of the Blogger composer.  If you don't understand HTML, avoid using it.  (Or look here)

This post has gone on quite long enough.  Come back to the next post for stage 2.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Barbecue chicken

Sorry, no photo for this one. I was too busy eating to get the camera out!

A quick note on barbecue sauce. It's easy, and home-made has considerably less sugar and salt than any of those 'cook-in' sauces you can buy in jars.

Last night we had chicken and chips, but to make things a bit tastier I marinaded the (already cooked) chicken breasts in some homemade barbecue sauce all day before popping them in the oven for around half a hour to warm through.

Start with some tomato puree and oil. They mix together to make a great paste that sticks really well to food. Then you need to remember to add five things:
  • salt
  • sweet
  • heat
  • sourness
  • aroma

Salt's easy. You can, if you like, just add salt. But if you use something like a couple of anchovies, or some Worcester sauce, you get salt plus flavour.

Sweet. Honey, sugar, marmalade, jam. Just stick in a relevant amount. Tablespoon of conserve, just a teaspoon of pure sugar will be enough. Pulped fruit such as plums or apple is also an interesting variation.

Heat. Well. Chilli and ginger are the obvious ones here. But don't forget black pepper.

Sourness. Lemon juice is good. So is some sort of vinegar. Or if you have tamarind that's also very yummy.

Aroma. Well, that's whatever you like. Garlic is essential in my opinion, but if you don't like garlic, don't add it. Any kind of herb or spice that you like will add to the taste.

Last night's mix consisted of tomato puree, olive oil, celery salt, brown sugar, freshly-ground black pepper, dried ginger, garlic powder, balsamic vinegar, and ground cumin.  And very good it was too!  

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Emergency rations

We're snowed in here at Auntie Anne Towers so I've done a bit of a review of what's available to make sure we won't starve. It's unlikely to be a long haul - but it's looking like it could be a few days before normal service is resumed.

This is when your store cupboard is vital. I have a few fresh veg - and I never allow myself to run out of spuds or onions. Beyond that it's down to the staples.

Think in headings.

I always have dried pasta in store, and there's some fresh pasta in the freezer. So I have spaghetti and I have shapes (currently shells). That means, with some judicious tin opening, I could make:
Spaghetti vongole (I have a tin of clams - but tuna fish would work just as well) Just use some garlic - dried will do to give flavour - and a small onion, to add flavour to the dish. A splash of white wine and a sprinkling of chilli flakes would help. And scatter a few dried herbs over the top - Italian ones for preference: basil, thyme, oregano.
Macaroni cheese. It doesn't have to be tube-shaped pasta in mac and cheese you know. Add some mustard to the sauce for extra punch.
Pasta bake. Just part-boil your shapes and add them to a sauce made from tinned tomatoes with herbs, garlic and onion. Add a few mushrooms if you have them. A tin of sweetcorn nibs wouldn't hurt either.

Risotto. You can make almost anything into a risotto. Tinned peas, mushrooms, tinned tuna, frozen prawns. As long as you have garlic and onion and some good stock you put by for this kind of occasion, you're made!
Curries. Whatever you have in a tin can be curried. Or this is maybe the way to use up your veg. Or leftovers. If you understand curry spices, go for it. If not, use ready-mix curry powder. Dried coconut, yoghurt, banana flakes, sultanas, all add to the flavour and help vary your dishes.
Chinese. If you've got soy sauce and some sesame oil you can make anything taste Chinese. Specially if you have five spice powder, ginger and garlic.

Seriously - take a good look around your kitchen and see what you have. We had tapas-style dinner yesterday so there were a few bits and pieces in the fridge that I've whizzed up together today into a pan of soup. The stewed peppers have given flavour and the leftover potato salad made it thick. There's some ciabatta that's going a bit dry today, but it'll make great garlic bread. If I make that into cheesy garlic bread it's almost a meal in itself.

Buon appetito!

Thursday, 7 February 2013

What can I do with..... a tin of tomatoes?

Regular readers will know that I'm a staunch supporter of making the most of things. If there's even a small amount of food (and sometimes other things) leftover I will find something tasty to do with it. Sometimes though, you don't have leftovers, and you have to raid your store cupboard for inspiration. But the contents of your cupboard might not always be inspiring. Not to worry. Here's some ideas for using the humble tinned tomato.

  • Italian sauce base. It's the absolute essential ingredient for any kind of pasta sauce, from a simple pomodoro to puttanesca. You can add almost anything to it, but you must have garlic, black pepper and herbs (basil, oregano, thyme) as a minimum. Then you can put in whatever else you fancy.
  • Pizza topping. If you drain the tomatoes first you can make a much thicker 'sauce' that's perfect for a pizza. Remember to keep the juice because it has lots of uses itself.
  • Salsa. Drain the tomatoes and reserve the juice for another dish. Add chilli flakes or finely chopped fresh chilli, a squeeze of lime juice, chopped leaf coriander, and crushed garlic.
  • Nacho sauce. Make some salsa. Tip a pack of nacho chips into a heat-proof bowl. Pour the salsa over them and top with grated cheese. Grill until the cheese melts. Enjoy!
  • Vegetable pie. Drain the tomatoes and reserve the juice for another dish. Roughly chop the tomatoes and add mixed cooked vegetables. Whatever you have. Pile the lot into an oven-proof dish and sprinkle breadcrumbs and grated cheese over the top. Bake for about 20 minutes at 200C, until the top turns brown and crunchy.
  • On toast. It's a simple but tasty, easy-to-prepare meal. If you add grated cheese it's even nicer!
  • Pizza toasts. Use the pizza topping, as above, but don't bother with the hassle of making bases. Use thick toast or French bread.

Stuff to do with the juice

  • Drink it. Some people like tomato juice as a drink. It's full of vitamins and very good for you. Spice it up with celery salt, black pepper, a splash of tabasco.
  • Bloody Mary. That's tomato juice with added vodka!
  • Soup. You can make great tomato-based soups by simmering the juice with some vegetables and herbs, then thickening the resultant mixture with some cornflour and cold water.
  • Vegetable stew. Make a nice thick soup and add pasta shapes about 10-15 minutes before you thicken it. Chunks of potato work too!
  • As an ingredient. Add to any meat-based casserole for added depth of flavour.
  • For cleaning. Honestly. You can clean copper with it - but not too often or you'll dissolve your copper away. Tomato juice is very acidic and cleans the grot off copper and brass quite easily if you apply it with a cloth. Try a small area of the item first though, preferably where it doesn't show.
  • To deal with skunk spray. Apparently it's a myth. The tomato smell disguises the skunk smell but doesn't actually remove it.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Cheap, cheerful and easy potato dish

New Year Dinner_ Veg (2)
Happy New Year one and all. I hope Santa brought you all you wanted (or at least what you needed.) I thought you might like to share in something we ate on New Year's Eve at Chez Tante Anne.  I did pheasant casserole with cider and cream, but I won't try to get you to do that until you're feeling a bit more adventurous with your cooking. (It was the first time I ever cooked it so I've been wary of it for a long time.)

However, I did these very simple and yummy spuds alongside the meal and they are just so easy you'll kick yourself for not cooking them before.

Heat your oven to about 180C (that's fan temperature. a little higher for standard ovens, though it's not critical). While it's warming up, grease an ovenproof dish. I like using the one in the photo because you can see how things are progressing while it cooks, but that isn't essential. A lid is though. (If you don't have a lidded dish, use foil.)

Peel some potatoes. Any kind, although larger ones look nice when you're done, and cut them into thin slices.  Do the same with a couple of onions. If you like garlic, peel and squish a couple of cloves of that too.

Now layer the whole lot into the dish. Start with onions and end with potatoes. Every couple of layers dot the spuds with s bit of butter or a smear of oil. Not too much! And add a sprinkling of salt (JUST a sprinkling - we're not breeding heart attacks here) and a hefty grind of black pepper.

Add enough chicken stock to come about a third of the way up the side of the dish. PLEASE don't use a whole stock cube if you have those nasty, salty commercial ones. A VERY tiny amount will be sufficient.

Now put it in the oven, on the bottom shelf will do, and ignore it for about 40 - 45 minutes. (The first time you cook it you might like to check after half an hour, just in case it's drying out.) If it looks a bit dry, add a small amount of water. (This is where the glass sides come in handy.) After 45 minutes it ought to be browning on top. You CAN leave it for up to an hour and a half, depending on how crunchy you like the top layer, but I find an hour is about right.

It goes with practically any roasted meat. Maybe some fish. If you want, you can even top it with grated cheese about 15-20 minutes before it's done and eat it by itself. Perhaps some sliced tomatoes with the cheese. Brown sauce goes well with it. If you can bear to leave any, it's pretty good cold on the following day too!