By Melanie Done, 13-Feb-2012 20:58:00
Valentine’s Day is a date on the calendar which has had a long association with food and cooking. It is said Valentine was the name of a physician (also alleged to be a gastronomist) who made his medicines more appetizing by adding herbs and spices. Valentine was imprisoned for his religious beliefs in the third century, but before he was executed on February 14th he sent his beloved a note, signed ‘from your Valentine’, and the tradition has stuck. Since then many people like to go that extra mile for Valentines and cook a romantic meal for a loved one.
There are lots of ways to add those extra special touches, from the food selected and the cookware used, to the way in which the finished dish is presented. The most popular Valentines ingredients that are said to have aphrodisiac effects are: oysters, asparagus, champagne, strawberries, and chocolate – which was once banned from monasteries for being too risqué! Also commonly associated with Valentines is the heart shape, so combining these two aspects are sure to gain your partner’s affections.
If you’re feeling adventurous and preparing an evening meal for the one you love, dinner can be served wearing a heart covered apron – clothing is optional! Just the thing for cooking and serving your meal in is the Love Hearts range from Polie Pottery, which is all dishwasher, microwave, freezer, oven and Aga safe. Tarts and pastries can be cooked in heart-shaped fluted flan tins from Alan Silverwood Ltd; which are still made in the UK.
Delicious deserts can be made in Le Creuset heart shaped dishes, and you have the perfect excuse to make them as chocolatly as possible. Cupcakes can be fun, made in appealing cupcake cases, decorated with sugar hearts and served on pretty Emma Bridgewater love heart plates. However, if you don't have room for dessert on this occasion an Emma Bridgewater heart shaped sampler tin would be perfect for storing those cakes in. Go on – have a bash at preparing a feast, and I’m sure cupid will be kind to you this Valentines.
By Melanie Done, 02-Jan-2012 19:38:00
New Year is traditionally the time for fresh beginnings around the world. One culture which welcomes New Year in, on the 23rd of this month, is the Chinese; with the Year of the Dragon. Custom dictates that people spend their money buying presents, decorations, material, food, and clothing. It is also the belief that if every family thoroughly cleans their house to sweep away any ill-fortune, it will make way for good incoming luck. Windows and doors are decorated with red embellishments with popular themes of "happiness", "wealth", and "longevity". On the Eve of Chinese New Year, supper is a feast with families. Food will include such items as pigs, ducks, chicken and sweet delicacies. The family will end the night with firecrackers. Early the next morning, children will greet their parents by wishing them a healthy and happy new year, and receive money in red paper envelopes.
As well as this festivity, another Oriental practice is that of knife making; and one of the oldest methods is the Damascus method where the steel is repeatedly folded and welded. Every part of the steel will come to the surface at some point and all the flaws will be hammered out or burnt away. For many years modern knife manufacturers have been trying to replicate this method and create the ultimate cutting edge which is rated using a Rockwell degree scale – the highest being Rockwell 62°. The higher the grade and the harder the steel used for the blade cutting edge, the higher the level of sharpness the cutting edge can obtain and the longer it will stay sharp. However, this is very brittle and more likely to break or chip if dropped, unless made using the Damascus method - which is very expensive.
Knife specialists I O Shen have overcome this problem by sandwiching 2 softer layers of steel either side of Rockwell 62° to produce the ultimate cutting edge – this is called Triplex Steel Technology. The latest know how is used to construct a blade that is not only amazingly sharp but will retain its edge for a phenomenal amount of time, and is less likely to chip or break. In addition to a range of I O Shen knives they also make a dedicated knife for the preparation of root vegetables – a 6.5” Broad Blade Chinese Vegetable Knife. The Recommended Retail Price is £74.95 but, for January only, you can buy this fantastic knife (to do a spot of Chinese cooking maybe) for the incredible price of £37.50. Happy New Year!
By Melanie Done, 26-Nov-2011 10:16:00
Christmas is upon us again and I suspect that some of you are more prepared than me. However, it always surprises me when customers come into the shop on Christmas Eve, in a mad panic, because they haven’t got an extra place setting for Auntie Nellie who is coming for Christmas dinner.
To make life easier there are some culinary essentials you may need to think about to make this Christmas day a roaring success; especially for the main event, the turkey! Firstly, make sure your carving knife is up to the job, or does it need sharpening? Then ensure you have a large enough carving board and roasting tin. Handy gadgets such as a pop-up turkey timer will tell you when the bird is cooked to perfection, a baster will keep it succulent and a pair of lifting forks will make picking it up a piece of cake. For perfect gravy you could use a gravy separator and for that extra touch at the table a gravy boat.
I always set our table on Christmas Eve, and in recent years I have made my own Christmas crackers with reusable cracker tins (£1.00 each, or 6 for £5) – a great personal touch. It’s always nice to put my own jokes in, along with handpicked presents for everyone. If you have the time it is lovely to make homemade goodies and even Christmas cake is simple enough, especially with the great kits that are now available. Personalise your cake with frills, edible winter flowers, robins, Christmas tree glitter sprinkles, snowflakes or whatever you fancy!
Another favourite ingredient of Christmas is the odd tipple or three! If you are having a bottle of bubbly with dinner you may need a wine cooler or champagne bucket, a drip collar, a stopper and of course don’t forget the corkscrew! Using a jigger measure for any spirits is wise, especially if you are driving over the festive season. To go with the wine perhaps you will be buying a selection of cheeses and these will need to be kept cool whilst on display. A slate cheeseboard would be perfect for this, and if you are partial to a few Brazils make sure you can find your nutcrackers!
Once you have taken care of all the preparations it’s time to think about donning a festive apron to protect your clothes, welcoming your guests, and having a Merry Christmas!
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