Saturday, May 4, 2013


We are knee deep in First Communion and Confirmation parties at the moment - it is wonderful to have a happy event to celebrate, filled with hope and promise.  An excuse to dress up and meet up (with some spirituality thrown in) what can be better than than?

In the current economic climate (!) many people are catering these events themselves (although I wonder if it's cheaper,  we probably way over cater when we are doing it ourselves!!)  and I have been asked for advice on how to manage without tearing your hair out!!

In an ideal world you would put the rest of the family into suspended animation for a few days before the party - imagine the house staying as clean as you have left it!!!!  AND being able to concentrate all your cooking attention on the party instead of the day to day meals!

When choosing your menu, first decide whether you want hot or cold or a mixture of both.  I favour a cold spread, but most people prefer to have a mixture - in this post I will cater for the cold camp!

Protein - the old reliables are always acceptable, roast sliced beef, turkey and ham* are lovely. Salmon is one of my favourites, particularly when portioned and served on a platter covered in a lettuce and sugar snap salad, with a dill dressing.  At the moment I'm really enthusiastic about serving tandoori chicken breasts, which are marinated for a few hours and roasted a day in advance - again these look great served on a platter strewn with green leaves.  For the veggies, although I don't generally make a specific vegetarian dish, many of the salads will contain cheese and nuts, so I reckon their protein intake is taken care of, and I don't feel too guilty!
*try cooking the ham in cola - it tastes great

Then come the salads - these come into a few categories:

Essentials (as in I'd be in trouble if these didn't appear!!)

Potato Salad (see here)
Caesar Salad
Coleslaw/Carrot Salad  (see here)
Rice Salad

Popular (these disappear in no time)

Beetroot (see here)
Bean  (see here)
Broccoli  (see here) Avoca call this their most popular salad, so perhaps it belongs in Essentials!
Green  (see here)

Ring the changes

Couscous (see here)
Any one that takes your fancy while reading blogs/cookbooks!!!

There are plenty more salads here on Brownieville Girl - just follow your own taste.

The most important factor when deciding is that 90% of the dish must be able to be prepared in advance - there is no point in being frazzled when the guests arrive.

One of the all time favourites is the Pesto Rice Salad (pictured at the front of this photo), it is best prepared in advance and  tastes delicious.

This recipe comes from Queen Delia's Summer Collection (in my opinion one of her top three).  I have made it with my own pesto, but have come to the decision that if you buy a really good fresh pesto, it tastes almost as good, but the saving in effort and money make it well worth using.

Pesto Rice Salad

225ml     risotto rice (arborio is good) - measured like liquid
tub          very best fresh pesto you can find (tesco finest is quite good)
450ml     vegetable stock, simmering
1             lemon, juiced
2 tbsp     best olive oil
25g        Parmesan cheese, shavings
              basil leaves to decorate
1 tsp       salt

Place the rice in a saucepan and stir in a quarter of the pesto, until every grain is coated.
Pour the simmering stock over the rice.
Place on the hob and bring to boiling point stirring with a wooden spoon.
Add the salt and give a final stir.
Put on a lid and bring the heat down to low, allow to cook for 20 mins.

When ready pour on the lemon juice, olive oil and remaining pesto sauce, and combine.
Taste and season as required.
Pour into a pretty serving dish and allow to cool.
Before serving scatter the basil leaves and Parmesan shavings over the top.


Sunday, April 14, 2013


We did quite a bit of entertaining over the Easter holidays, and the most challenging aspect of choosing a menu for me, was choosing what vegetables to serve.  I want veggies that complement the main dish, and that are a little bit different - side dishes that look and taste as though you have gone to some effort.

We invited my husband's family over for Saturday evening, and there were 16 of us eating - I love having a large number for dinner as it gives me a chance to try out new recipes and allows for some experimenting too (my theory being that if there are enough people present, someone will like every dish!!).  On this occasion the recipe I tried was Nigella's Roast Red Onions with Basil (from Nigellissima) and I threw together this Asparagus, Peas and Sugar Snaps with Pesto and both went down really well.  The onions were a useful addition to the repertoire as they can wait out of the oven happily for at least an hour - which is wonderful when there is pressure for space in the oven.  They were delicious, the basil being an unexpected flavour combination (I would usually go with thyme or sage with onion dishes) that worked very well - and another bonus, they were lovely reheated the next day.

The pea dish was also a great choice for entertaining, as the asparagus stem can be cooked ahead of time, along with the peas - and then a final few minutes on a high flame will reheat them and cook the asparagus tips and the sugar snaps - easy peasy (please forgive me for the awful pun - sometimes I just can't help myself, it's an affliction!!). 

The two side dishes worked well together as the mellow round flavours of the onions contrasted well with the fresh crispness of the greens.  I also served Piedmont Peppers and Butternut Squash with Blue Cheese, and they all worked really nicely.

Asparagus, Peas and Sugar Snaps with Pesto

All I did was, break off the woody part of the asparagus stem and discard (you could of course save them for soup).
I then cut off the tips and put them aside. 
I chopped up the stems and allowed them to cook in a tiny amount of water for a few minutes, then I added a small packet of frozen peas and cooked until defrosted.
 At this stage you can put aside to cool down and then reheat later. 
When ready to serve add the sugar snaps and asparagus tips and steam for a minute or two.
Remove from the heat and add a tablespoon of pesto.
This is nice served with some Parmesan shavings (if I hadn't forgotten them!!!)

Roast Onions with Basil
based on Nigella Lawson's recipe

1 kg        Onions (I used pink - they were so pretty)
100ml     Olive oil
Pinch       Caraway seeds
1 tsp        Maldon Salt (or your favourite)
2 tsp        Good balsamic vinegar
1 pkt        basil leaves (fresh)

Preheat oven to 180 C

Quarter the onions and then peel them.
Place them in a roasting tin, and cover with the olive oil.
Scatter with the caraway seeds (Nigella uses fennel, but I'm not a fan)
Roast for about 1 hour, or until totally cooked through.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
Season with the salt and vinegar.
You can allow to stand for up to an hour in a warm kitchen.
When you are ready to serve scatter the torn basil leaves over the onions.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


This is a recipe that just has to be shared - easy, delicious, healthy and nutritious, you can't ask for much more than that.  This is my "everyday" bread recipe, and has evolved over time (a commodity I have less and less of! - good job it takes so little of it to throw together).  The recipe is totally adaptable - and can be made with just four ingredients, but it is so easy to play with that you rarely go for the unadulterated version.

The revelation for me was that self raising flour (wholewheat and white)  makes a great bread - with no faffing about with yeast or even bicarbonate of soda (added benefit is that sunflower seeds don't go that alarming shade of green).

Another benefit is that you can use up old milk - you know that carton in the fridge that you don't dare use in your coffee.  I have used fresh milk, sour milk, goats milk, soya milk and even almond milk - all to great effect.

Then come the additions - I usually throw in a handful of seeds (linseeds, sun flower seeds, pumpkin seeds) and a handful or two of oats (must be the cheapest super food around).  I regularly replace the sugar with some treacle, and it is delicious when I replace some of the milk with a tub of hazelnut yogurt.  The choices are many and all yours -:

Basic Bread

250g       self raising wholemeal flour
200g       plain self raising flour
2 tsp       sugar
400ml     milk (approx)

Preheat oven to 180 C

Mix the dry ingredients together and then add enough milk to make a very slightly sloppy mixture - think porridge like. 

Spoon into a prepared loaf tin and bake for about 80 minutes.

It's ready when you tap the bottom and get a hollow sound.