Category Archives: Entertaining

Homemade cashew, cocoa and date energy bars

Homemade cashew nut, cocoa and date 'Nakd' bars - servings

All natural ingredients, wheat free, dairy free and no added sugars

I love making homemade cereal bars, nutty granola bars, flapjacks and various slices for times when my energy levels are teetering on the edge.

For me, these are perfect; they’re cheap and you can make a decent batch in around 10 minutes – no serious elbow grease required. Secondly, they’re all completely natural and nutritious. This is good to know following recent news that some so-called ‘healthy’ cereal bars contain 40% sugar.

Always bake your own if you ask me!

Ingredients

Makes 8 – 10 individual servings

    • 150g cashew nuts, dry roasted*
    • 200g pitted dates
    • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
    • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
    • 3/4 tsp ground ginger
    • 2 tsps vanilla extract
    • 2 tbsp boiling water
    • a pinch of salt

*On roasting: aim to roast the nuts for around 15 minutes at 150C

Directions

    • Combine the nuts and dates in a food processor and pulse until a grainy mixture is formed Homemade cashew nut, cocoa and date 'Nakd' bars - food processor roughHomemade cashew nut, cocoa and date 'Nakd' bars - food processor pulsed 
    • Tip in the powdered spices, cocoa, salt and vanilla extract; pulse again
      Homemade cashew nut, cocoa and date 'Nakd' bars - food processor spices
    • The mixture may appear too ‘grainy’ i.e. dry – if so, add the 2 tbsp of boiling water to make a sticky mixture.
    • Once the desired consistency is reached tip the mixture out into a flat dish or Tupperware box lined with cling film or baking parchment. Press down and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Homemade cashew nut, cocoa and date 'Nakd' bars - sticky mixtureHomemade cashew nut, cocoa and date 'Nakd' bars - place in fridge
    • Remove from fridge, slice into small servings and dig in!
    • See also: Peanut butter and date flapjacks

Lamb: an Easter crowd-pleaser

There are no words, only superlatives. Lamb has always been my favourite meat and I thought it would make a fitting tribute to celebrate Britain’s new season lamb in the run up to the Easter period.

Aside from being intensely flavoursome and economical I find that lamb lends itself to so many uses in the kitchen. It works well cubed and marinated in olive oil and spices, rolled into meatballs or burgers and gently fried or simply served with a minty pesto sauce. The strength of the meat also lends itself to punchier flavours like anchovy, mint and a whole range of different spices. If you’re having a lamb joint as part of a old-fashioned Sunday roast, don’t feel pressured into demolishing the whole thing in one day; lamb is particularly good, if not better, eaten cold the day after either as a sandwich filling or in a salad.

The recipes below should give you some inspiration for cooking with either a roasting joint or with ground lamb.

Roast lamb shoulder with garlic, herbs, vegetables, new potatoes and tahini dressing

Whenever I have a joint of meat I like it best served alongside a mountain of chunky roasted vegetables.

Vegetables in roasting dish

Oven roasted vegetables

This makes a good rustic dish, with sliced garlic nestled into small slits in the shoulder joint alongside fresh sprigs of rosemary. Try rubbing it with ground cumin before roasting it for an extra kick.

Lamb shoulder joint

The addition of the tahini dressing, composed of tahini (sesame paste) and yoghurt, gives the dish a silky, nutty finish. You can use a whole bulb of garlic; dividing four cloves for stuffing the meat with the remainder tossed into the roasting tin.

Note on cooking time: 3.45 – 4 hours

Ingredients

  • 1 shoulder of lamb weighing 2.5 kg
  • 1 garlic bulb
  • 1 small bunch of rosemary
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 carrots, cut into large chunks
  • 1 courgette, roughly chopped
  • 1 parsnip, roughly chopped
  • 1 red onion, cut into quarters
  • 1 litre beef or lamb stock
  • 500g new potatoes, halved

for the tahini dressing

  • 4 tbsp tahini paste
  • 200ml natural yoghurt
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon

Directions

  • Remove the lamb from the fridge 1 hr before roasting.
  • Using a sharp pointed knife, make small incisions all over the outside of the meat.  
  • Peel 4 garlic cloves, slice them in finely and place into each incision. Do the same with the sprigs of rosemary too.
  • Pre-heat oven to 190C.
  • Heat a large frying pan, add a little oil and brown the lamb all over (unfortunately this process was too messy to photograph!). Remove from the pan and set aside. 
  • Meanwhile, scatter the carrot, onion, parsnip, courgette, new potatoes, parsley and the remaining garlic and rosemary in a large roasting dish, pour in the stock, then place the lamb on top of the vegetables.
  • Roast the lamb joint for about 1 hour 45 mins. Turn the joint halfway through the cooking time.
  • Turn the heat down to 150C, cover the roasting dish with foil and place back in the oven for a further 2 hours.

To make the tahini dressing

  • Combine the tahini with the yoghurt and lemon juice in a bowl and mix thoroughly using a whisk or spoon. Set aside. 
  • Remove the lamb from the dish and place on a plate. Cover with the foil and rest the joint.
  • While the lamb is resting, make the gravy. Pour all the stock from the tin through a sieve into a saucepan to remove all the vegetables and herbs. This stock should be rich, slightly thick and have a great lamb flavour.
  • Reduce it a little on the hob if you feel you want to concentrate the flavour, skimming off any fat that comes to the surface.
  • Using a serrated carving knife carve the lamb into slices.
  • Serve the lamb with the gravy, potatoes, vegetables and tahini dressing.

Lamb burgers

Shaped into nice round patties with plenty of gorgeous toppings. Try these burgers out on the barbecue for the best results. If you are looking for a middle eastern twist on lamb meatballs then Felicity Cloake’s Lamb koftes are a thing to behold.

Lamb burger with mint and rosemary

Ingredients (makes 2 large patties)

  • 500g ground lamb mince
  • 2 tsp dry whole coriander
  • 2 tsp dry whole cumin seeds
  • 1 clove garlic, finely grated
  • 1 small onion, finely grated
  • 1 handful mint, finely chopped
  • 2 slices of brown bread, soaked in water
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

  • Squeeze the water out of the bread and together with all the other ingredients, place it in a mixing bowl.
  • Gently dry fry the coriander seeds and cumin for 2 minutes over a medium heat, then grind together in a pestle and mortar or spice grinder.
  • Gently mix everything together and form it into thick patties/burgers.
  • Heat your griddle pan or barbecue until it is smoking hot and grill the burgers to perfection.
  • (optional) Garnish with sliced red onion, tomato and lettuce leaves.

Entertaining a crowd

We’ve all been there. You’ve decided to have guests round for a mid-week gathering and you need some form of dip selection, appetiser, or clever coffee table snack to keep them sated.

Browsing your local supermarket, you inevitably opt for the requisite ‘3-of-a-kind’ packaged dip trio: sour cream and chive, guacamole and chilli salsa, all laden with salt and sugar and not a lot else. After a brief flurry or munching and nibbles when your guests arrive, each of the little pots become somewhat more and more neglected as the evening wears on; the sour cream forms a skin and then goes stale; the guacamole ends up in the bin; and the leftover salsa might, if you’re lucky, survive ’till the next day, makinh it onto a pizza base or alongside a steak or chicken breast.

esquirehandbookforhosts

Esquire’s handbook for hosts

I do occasionally like to host a small party of close friends myself. Now, I’m no Pippa Middleton (interpret that as you please), but I have a few tried and tested ‘finger foods’ which I think are good to have around for you need them most. Pretzels and salted peanuts are nice, if a litte bit unimaginative and cliche – try mixing it up with a medley of cashews, roasted almonds or pecans, tossed them in a sticky dark-brown sugar glaze and some spicy cayenne pepper. For dips, you could opt for a punchy home-made Mediterranean concoction like a tapenade (black olive) or bagna cauda (anchovy and garlic), or engineer a quick Baba Ghanoush by roasting and mashing an aubergine, before whizzing it up with some olive oil and chickpeas. Failing that, adding some chopped fresh herbs to some plain yoghurt can be great as a party dip.

For me, though, hummus is definitely where it’s at. This Middle Eastern chickpea and sesame creation has many guises; from the vibrant roasted red pepper and goat’s cheese to the more muted broad bean and herb hummus. All finished off with a swirl of extra-virgin olive oil, a squeeze of lemon for sharpness and some chopped parsley. For a really good ‘themed’ casual dining scene with excellent food I recommend The Hummus Bros in London’s Soho district.

If you’re really struggling for inspiration (and not only on the food front) then Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts (image above), a publication from the United States, offers some pointers for cocktails, party games, conversation topics.

For the dip recipes I’ve chosen below, the ingredients speak for themselves. They’re also perfect for breaking the ice and getting people in the mood.

Recipes: Trio of dips

Feast your eyes on these dip combinations, great for any occasion and made with quality ingredients (recipes below).

Trio of dips with platter

Clockwise from left to right: platter (tortilla chips, grilled ciabatta and vegetable sticks), beetroot hummus dip, spinach and artichoke dip, guacamole with chilli and spring onion dip.

For the platter (suggestions):

  • Crostini or sliced ciabatta, toasted.
  • Breadsticks, potato crisps, vegetable crisps, baked pitta chips, brown bread, sourdough, flatbread, homemade baked potato skins
  • Hard boiled eggs, radishes, celery sticks, carrot sticks

1. Guacamole with chilli and spring onion

Ingredients

  • 3 ripe avocados
  • 1 lemon, juice only
  • 2 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 1 red chilli, finely sliced
  • ½ tsp salt

Directions

  • In a large bowl place the scooped avocado pulp and lemon juice.
  • Mix the avocado with the lemon juice to coat. This prevents discolouration of the avocado flesh.
  • Using a fork or a potato masher, mash the avocado together with the salt, chilli, and spring onions.

2. Beetroot Hummous

Ingredients

  • 400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 200g cooked beetroot, roughly chopped
  • 2 lemons, zest and juice
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 tbsp tahini
  • 100ml extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  • Blitz half of the chickpeas and beetroot with the remaining ingredients in a food processor, blending into a smooth paste.
  • Fold in the remaining chickpeas and beetroot.
  • Garnish with a few springs of dill or thyme (optional)

3. Spinach and Artichoke dip

Ingredients

  • 300g fresh, canned or frozen spinach
  • 400g tin artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 2tbsp parmesan cheese, grated
  • 3 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp pine nuts (optional)

Directions

  • Combine half of the spinach and artichoke hearts with the other ingredients in a food processor and blitz into a fine paste.
  • Fold in the remaining half of the spinach and artichoke hearts.
  • If using, sprinkle the pine nuts on top of the dip for garnish