Lamb with Mint & Elderflower – Saturday Spring Supper


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Despite a distinct lack of Spring-like weather (or at least not the sort I had in mind) it was about time to get a bit more involved in some of the food of the season – which to me means roast lamb. I usually make a mint and redcurrant sauce to go with it, but wanted to have a bit of a play around bringing elderflower into the mix.  In the interest of full disclosure, this took a couple of runs.  The first time around I started with a tried and tested mint and redcurrant recipe (courtesy of Delia) but made an elderflower jelly to use in place of the redcurrant – the taste was good but the sauce didn’t thicken back up in the same way as the original, the colour wasn’t overly appealing – I also missed the redcurrant in there a lot more than I thought I might.  When I made it again I kept some of the redcurrant jelly but replaced half of it with elderflower cordial which was a much better balance, with all the good bits from the original and a kick of freshness from the elderflower.  Recipes and menu below… S

Menu:

Bloody Mary tomatoes & celery salt here
Avocado & yoghurt dip here
Pea, mint and spring onion soup with parmesan crisps here
Shoulder of lamb with mint & elderflower
Apple tart fine with salted caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream here

 

Recipe: Shoulder of Lamb with Mint & Elderflower (serves 8)

3kg leg of lamb
4 garlic cloves (each cut into three)
10g rosemary
Olive oil
Salt

For the sauce:

8 tbsp elderflower cordial
9 tbsp red wine vinegar
6 tbsp redcurrant jelly
6 heaped tbsp chopped mint

Step 1: Heat red wine vinegar with redcurrant jelly until the redcurrant jelly melts.  Add the elderflower
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Step 2: Add the mint and stir well.  Set aside and reheat gently when ready to serve.
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For the lamb:

Preheat the oven to 180°C (fan)

Step 1: Bring the lamb out of the fridge around 2 hours before cooking so the whole joint is at room temperature.  Rub with olive oil, make incisions around 1 inch apart all over the lamb and fill with a slice of garlic or sprig of rosemary.  Sprinkle with salt and set aside
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Step 2: Place the lamb in the oven for 15 minutes at 180°C, turn the oven down to 160°C and cook for a further 1h 30 (for pink lamb)

Step 3: Remove and rest for around 15 minutes before carving.  Serve with the elderflower and mint sauce.

 

Cinco de Mayo Supper

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A few months ago we had a bunch of university friends over for a margarita Mexican night.  The food was all sharing plates and easy to prep in advance, so when I clicked that our family get together was the same weekend as Cinco de Mayo it was the perfect excuse for a re-run.  The first time around I didn’t cook the pork low or long enough which meant that while it was nice, it wasn’t “pulled”, and the main was just the tortillas so I added a corn salad to lighten things up a little.  Since doing this the first time I discovered the magic of caramelised salted white chocolate, which made an appearance with the churros (yum).  My friend Ana sent me some playlist suggestions and I actually still had the maracas from her wedding in Colombia to use as a centrepiece on the table (which were amusingly also put to good use later on).  Served with Corona, rose and of course, margaritas.  S

Menu:

Corn Fritters with Avocado & Lime
Pulled Pork Tortillas
Picked Red Onion
Tomato Salsa
Guacamole
Corn, Tomato & Feta Salad
Baked Churros with Caramelised Salted White Chocolate

Everything can be made a day in advance (probably including the pork, I put it in at lunchtime so it was out still resting when people arrived, but it doesn’t take long to shred).  Everything just needs to come out of the fridge about an hour before people arrive to get it to room temperature (I left a stone in all of the avocado mixes to stop it browning).  If making the churros in advance, make them up to the baking stage and add the sugar coating on the day.  The sauce just needs to be gently re-heated when you are ready to use it.

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Alice in Wonderland Baby Shower

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I know on this side of the pond there are some mixed views on baby showers, I fall in the camp that they are a great excuse to get everyone together, and the ones I have thrown have actually been a lot of fun to plan. The first baby shower I planned was for my friend Casey, who was over from NY and living in London for a couple of years. At this point I had never been to a baby shower, hence throwing a baby shower for an American was a slightly daunting prospect – The main questions being how to feed everyone without me being stuck in the kitchen, and how to make it fun and unique without crossing the line into the cheese-fest I am sure the English attendees may have been dreading…  I decided to start with a theme, Alice in Wonderland – A bit of a British backdrop and some great details in the book to play on in the food and decorations.  Luckily the film re-make was out around this time so the internet was filled with a lot of inspiration, and I was fortunate enough to stumble on the amazing Loralee Lewis who worked some magic on the invitations and decorations.  I wanted to create a sense of fun with the menu and little details, but most importantly be free to enjoy it when people arrived – recipes, timings, games and decorations below (the bump we were showering is now my adorable godson).

Menu:

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  • Coronation chicken sandwiches
  • Cucumber, mint and cream cheese sandwiches
  • Individual lemon tarts
  • Queen of hearts biscuits with jam
  • Chocolate biscuit cake squares
  • Chocolate truffles (bought)
  • Hummingbird cupcakes (the only special request from the mother to be)

With the number attending a sit-down menu wasn’t an option.  I didn’t want to worry about passing canapes, but didn’t want people to have to balance knives and forks standing either, so in Bridget Jones’ mother style everything was kept bite sized.  I decided to take the idea of afternoon tea and add an Alice in Wonderland twist, with playful and colourful food on various different heights of stands to try to turn the dining table into a bit of a decoration in itself.  While the menu had a lot of components, all of it could be made in advance so the only thing to do on the day was assembly.

Recipes:

  • Coronation chicken sandwiches (makes six rounds)

All about the sauce: 6 tbsp mayo, 3 tbsp mango chutney, 1 tbsp double cream, 2 tbsp madras paste (or curry powder), 2 tbsp flaked almonds, coriander to taste (around 2 tbsp).  I leave out the apricots and sultanas but they are easily added back in.

Bake four chicken breasts in tin foil with salt and pepper and a touch of oil (around 180 for 50 minutes).  When cooked pull apart and when cool stir through the sauce.  Remember to add the sauce to the chicken not the other way around so you can manage the ratio of the mixture.  The  mix can be made in advance and put into sandwiches on the day.

  • Cucumber, mint and cream cheese sandwiches

Pretty self explanatory – To make the filling a bit more interesting I chopped some mint and mixed it through the cream cheese the night before and added a touch of salt.

  • Individual lemon tartlets

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I made two full size lemon tarts the day before (using Merry Berry’s tarte au citron recipe), but if you preferred you could buy them.  On the morning of the shower I took a round cutter around the size of a £2 coin and cut out the individual tartlets to place on the cake stand.  Top each one with a raspberry or blueberry for an extra pop of colour.

  • Queen of hearts biscuits with jam

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Biscuit dough recipe from the BBC Good Food website: 250g softened butter, 140g caster sugar, 1 egg yolk, 2 tsp vanilla extract beaten, plus 300g plain flour.  Mix with a spoon then your hands, roll and cut into shapes, cook at 180 for around 10 minutes until just golden at the edges.

For the heart biscuits, make the dough as above and cut the individual hearts, then using a smaller heart cutter remove the inside of half of the batch (you can keep going with the offcuts until you run out of dough).  Once the cookies are baked and cooled, heat some jam in a saucepan and spoon onto the solid hearts, place the cutout hearts on top and leave to cool.  If you find they soften when you store them (mine did), just pop them back  in the oven on the day – 10 minutes at around 160 should get the crunch back.

  • Chocolate biscuit cake squares

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Brilliant recipe from my friend Ems.  Take around half a pack of digestive biscuits and crush them into a bowl using your hands so you have pieces of various sizes.  Add 2 tbps cocoa powder, 4 tbsp softened butter, 4 tbsp golden syrup and mix.  Everyone likes these with a slightly different mix so taste as you go and play around with the quantities – but make sure it isn’t too wet (if it is, add some more biscuits).  Press the mixture into a dish and press in tightly.  Refrigerate for around an hour, top with a layer of melted chocolate and return to the fridge.  Leave in the dish and remove to cut into squares on the day.

Decorations:

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From the off, I wanted to make the most out of all the small details in the Alice in Wonderland story to try and create a proper atmosphere for the shower.  I was lucky enough to come across Loralee Lewis on Etsy fairly early on in my planning who helped me hit exactly the right note on the invitations – Unlike so many invitations out there that were either sickly pink or a silhouette of someone with an unrealistically perky ponytail stroking their baby bump, Loralee’s paperie had real imagination and a brilliant sense of fun to it.  The Alice in Wonderland collection was originally for her daughter’s birthday party which Loralee had posted on her blog, so I contacted her about making it into something bespoke for the shower with some accessories to carry the theme through from the invitations to the shower itself.  Loralee was incredibly patient and enthusiastic, and unsurprisingly her work has now taken off in a big way (check out her full site at http://www.loraleelewis.com).  As well as the invitations, I ordered cupcake toppers, “eat me” and “drink me” tags for the teacups, and posters of my favourite quotes from the book, which I placed on the front door  to the building and on the way up to the flat.  Also via Etsy I found a lady to make some napkins with some images from the book printed on them and scattered them around for people to use.   All of the guests had e mailed me a picture of themselves as a baby which I mounted on different colour card to decorate the doorways and dining table.  Huge brownie points to my dad who spent months stopping at every charity shop he passed to collect so many different cups and saucers…

The Games:

  • Don’t say baby (using tiny pegs ordered from ebay)
  • The  perfect baby (attributes game)
  • The baby food game (baby food tasting)

The games were the part I was a bit nervous about, so I stuck to a small number and added a couple of twists so they tied in with the rest of the day.  I found some sweet little painted wooden pegs from ebay to give to everyone as they arrived for the “don’t say baby” game (if you say baby, the person who hears it takes your peg, the person with the most pins at the end wins).  For the attributes game and baby food tasting I bought some pastel coloured paper from Rymans and printed out the answer sheets with Alice in Wonderland quotes at the top.  For prizes I was back to Etsy (Alice in Wonderland notebook, soaps and writing paper).

The Favours:

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A very easy favour idea that can be made well in advance and doesn’t cost a lot at all.  I bought the jars on ebay and Loralee Lewis did the labels for the front and the lids.  I made raspberry and lime jam (from the WI Book of Preserves) – Just make sure the jam is cooled before you apply the labels.  I displayed them in the hallway as an additional decoration – the basket was borrowed from the mother-to-be (I padded out the inside with towels and topped them with some dotted fabric, then placed the jam jars on top).

Timings:

  • 3 months in advance: Save the date and ordered invitations, collect addresses
  • 2 months in advance: Send invitations, (from this point you can also make the jam, write and print quizzes, buy/make prizes and decorations)
  • 1-2 days in advance: Make coronation chicken mix, cream cheese and mint mix, cook the chicken, make (or buy) lemon tarts, make biscuits and chocolate biscuit cake.  I also attached the labels to the cups etc in advance.
  • Day of the shower: Put up posters, baby pictures, lay out crockery, napkins.  Cut out the mini tartlets and place fruit on top, assemble sandwiches and cover with cling film, cut chocolate biscuit cake into squares, arrange biscuits, cupcakes and truffles onto plates.
  • Once people arrive: Just remember to keep the sandwiches covered until ready to serve
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