Monday
Dec312012

HELP - I've just found out I'm hosting a party

One of the first messages I received this morning was a cry for help on how to throw a last minute party. Lucy had just found out at 7am this morning her gangs NYE plans had crashed and burned, and she was nominated to sort out their party. She was panicking.

What will I do
I've 30 people coming all expecting a good time
What will we eat - drink - dance to
I don't have enough glasses
How can I fit everyone in
My house is a mess

Questions like these streamed from her message as did her panic and a sense of how overwhelmed she was.

My first piece of advice at all times like this is KIS

KEEP IT SIMPLE

Parties do not need infinite organisation and planning to be good. A lastminute get together can be just as much fun as a complex multi layered party which has been planned for months.

I always start with my kitchen notebook or a piece of blank unlined paper. Here I suggest you note down what you need for the party -

People - who's coming what expertise is their in my guest list I can draw upon ie who's a great baker or cocktail shaker, who could make a few playlists, etc etc
Food - cheese, fruit and crackers & bowls of chocolates & clementines, chutneys
Venue - my house, kitchen, bathrooms (clean towels, check soap, loo roll, airfresher her etc), garden (candles, firepit), downstairs lock study/ bedrooms etc
Drinks - mulled cider make a big pot then ask others to BYO
Party caper & decoration - hats, glitter, candles, lanterns, sparklers
Glassware, candles, crockery - paper ad disposable tea lights in jam jars outside and in, extra fairy lights

Immediately everything is much more doable and it's easy to identify who can help and where and what jobs they will do.

If I was hosting Lucy's party I'd nip down to Marks as Spencer and buy the following cheeses because they offer a range of textures and flavours, temperatures and tastes.

Cornish blue nuts & honey - I love cheese as nuts and a bowl of honey or some drizzled over the plate brings out the flavour of the cheeses

Creamery Lancashire caramelised red onion & chilli chutney - this comes in a fab little pot which immediately looks great on the cheese plate and its easily served with a spoon.

Brie terrines with windfall chutney - these soft cheese blends are great for those who don't like strong flavour

Black sticks blue cheese & white port with cream - this is heated and served with crackers or bits of crispy bread.

A cheese table allows guests to nibble all night without the need for courses hours in the kitchen or stress. Once the table is set and the cheeses put out there's nothing more to do. Only replenish if necessary.

I'd also ask all my guests to bring a piece of cheese and a bottle of cider which could then be added to my mulled cider which I'd serve in big jugs and keep warm on the cooker in a gigantic pan all evening.

Happy New Year my friends. May 2013 be a cracking and sparkling one for you and yours.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = life Remarkable


Monday
Dec242012

Last Moment Presents or unexpected guests - greet them with Cheese and Wine

As I walked around town the other day in search of some last minute bits and bobs, I wasshocked at the amount of tat on offer.  And tat with a hefty price tag.

Lots of you have been in touch asking for my thoughts on last minute presents and I thought I would share some of my suggestions with you today.  When you have to shop at the last minute and let's face it lots of us do, the most important thing is not - to buy any old thing that is sitting on the shelves, but to try and buy something the receipient will enjoy.  When I need to shop like this, I always turn to food.

I have never known anyone to turn down a well thought of bottle of wine, or a good plate of cheese.  These are prefect gifts for those difficult to buy for family members, or for friends, or hosts.  

Bottles of bubbles, never go a miss, in any household.  My favourites this season are Marks and Spencer Precesso, which is very dry, lightly bubbled and refreshing, its taste is smooth and fresh.  Precesso is perfect on its own, or mix one bottle with two dashes of Cointreau over ice, with a carton of Pomegranate juice and some clementine segments and a cinnamon stick for a Christmas aroma in a cocktail glass.

Presecco also works as an aperitif before a Turkey Dinner, or as a refreshing drink to accompany the heady flavours of a Turkey Christmas Dinner.

Bellante is a rose vino Spumante, also from Marks and Spencer has a refreshing strawberry flavour, with hints of cherry and summer fruits. Served icily cold it is a sweet aperitif.  Pink Bubbles are a present you can never go wrong with for those gals in your life.  Surprisingly both these sparkling wines are pleasant accompaniments to light snacks or a piece or two of Cheese.

I love the Acaia wood of this cheese board which comes with four artisan cheeses, a Manchego, a bake in the box brie, a piece of mature Cheddar Cheese and a creamy stilton.  This Marks and Spencer product takes the stress and hassle out of trying to chose or serve a cheese board, but cheeseing and presenting it for you, and on a soft and strokeabout woodedn board that can be used time and time again, and not only for cheese, Marks and Spencer allow you to tick cheese off your 'to do' list in one action.

Port is a natural accompanient to the end of a meal, and its not only for old men, but women and young people too.  Served with a slice of lemon, and a few cloves, some brown sugar or a dash of honey, it becomes a Porttoddy, and is infinitely sweeter than the traditional whiskey laced one.

This Marks and Spencer finest reserve comes in a gorgeous round bottle, which for the past four years I have washed out and used for salad dressings, oils and vinegars.  Port is commonly served as a digestif, but mixed with ice, tonic water and a squeeze of lemon, it ibecomes a drink that is slinky and soft a porttonic, and the rich berry flavours in this finest reserve make it a perfect.

I absolutely love this box of biscuits, the decore is very French, and the biscuits haven't been fiddled with too much, they are crisp, crunchy and the box is divine, one that will bring generations of pleasure to its users, when the biscuits are finished.

Maybe you want to buy a small whole cheese, then Marks and Spencer have just the cheese for you - Stilton in a Jar, and Cranberry and Stilon in wax, these cheeses are full of a flavour, and will bring days of great eating.

When you have to buy at the last moment, steer away from chocolate, and instead buy cheese and crackers, wine and cocktails.  Don't buy cheap flowers, or any packaged gifts.  Buy things you would enjoy eating, and you will be amazed at just how much your gifts are enjoyed.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life REMARKABLE

Saturday
Dec222012

Pick up some Pink Port  

The room was packed with tables laden with bottles, glasses were clinking and people were josling to try, any array of wines.  Luvians Wine Fair in St Andrews, Scotland was packed.  In the corner was a man with an interesting looking bottle, and some tasting glasses.  He had one bottle on his table.  One.  In a room filled with bottles, and tables covered with them he stood out.

I made my way over.

'Would you like to try some' his Edinburgh accent asked me, as he lifted up a tight nosed tasting glass and swirled it around.  Handing it to me, he added, 'What do you think it is?'

I glanced at the bottle, then at his brown eyes hidden under a mass of silver hair.

'Port' I murmered, 'is it port?'

'Yes, but this isn't just any port. Tell me what you taste.'

The liquid was light, fruity, with flavours of cherry and strawberries, and the bottle had a clean, modern design.  I was attracted to it.

'This is a port for you ladies.' the white haired gentleman told me, explaining how Port's stuffy imagine for old men in dark clubs filled with smoke, was alienating women.


Marks and Spencer's Pink Port is designed specifically for women, its lean, long and clean bottle, with light branding, make it something I want to pick off the shelf and hold in my hands, wrap in tissue and bring home, or give to friends as a gift.

Pink Port is not in the slightest bit traditional and all the more attractive to my palate for that.  It is light, floral, and fresh, delicious poured over ice with a splash of tonic.  The cherry, strawberry notes are prominent, there is more depth and flavour than rose wine, however, it is quite sweet.  

Serve it ice cold as an aperitif for those who aren't fond of bubbles at Christmas, or with a milder cheese at the end of the feast of food that will be shared on Christmas Day.  Dribbled over some soft chevre, which is then spread on salty crackers is the food of midnight feasts.

Marks and Spencer Pink Port would make a uplifting and lightness to your Christmas dinner drinks, and its great to bring to parties as a gift for the hostess.  

If you want to introduce young adults to Port this Christmas, Pink Port would be a superb place to begin drinking this smooth fortified wine.  

What is your favourite type of Port?

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

Friday
Dec212012

Overcomer

Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.

-Helen Keller

Celebrate & walk beside those who overcome their pain.

That's it for now ...
Nics
Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Wednesday
Dec192012

Max Lucado's Christmas Prayer

Dear Jesus,
It's a good thing you were born at night. This world sure seems dark. I have a good eye for silver linings. But they seem dimmer lately.
These killings, Lord. These children, Lord. Innocence violated. Raw evil demonstrated.
The whole world seems on edge. Trigger-happy. Ticked off. We hear threats of chemical weapons and nuclear bombs. Are we one button-push away from annihilation?
Your world seems a bit darker this Christmas. But you were born in the dark, right? You came at night. The shepherds were nightshift workers. The Wise Men followed a star. Your first cries were heard in the shadows. To see your face, Mary and Joseph needed a candle flame. It was dark. Dark with Herod's jealousy. Dark with Roman oppression. Dark with poverty. Dark with violence.
Herod went on a rampage, killing babies. Joseph took you and your mom into Egypt. You were an immigrant before you were a Nazarene.
Oh, Lord Jesus, you entered the dark world of your day. Won't you enter ours? We are weary of bloodshed. We, like the wise men, are looking for a star. We, like the shepherds, are kneeling at a manger.
This Christmas, we ask you, heal us, help us, be born anew in us.

Hopefully

Nics

Monday
Dec172012

Spinning Sugar with McKinneys and Louise Lennox

Louise Lennox and I couldn't believe it was five years ago since we had last worked together at RTE.  It was wonderful to see her in Dublin lastweek for a McKinney's Sugar Spinning Session.  Otherwise known as a McKinney's Sugar Masterclass.

But my first memory of meeting Louise is standing in her kitchen filming her spin sugar into delicate spirals and spun sparkles for an RTE Cookery show.  For the McKinney's Masterclass Louise taught us how to make Honeycomb, Peppermint Marshmallows, Chiffon Cake - a type of light as a feather sponge made with oil rather than butter - and icing.  Lots of icing.

Louise shared lots of Sugar Secrets with us, such as invest in a good quality sugar thermometer, as guessing sugar temperatures never works, and something always ends up burnt.

Honeycomb needs to boil and bubble until it reaches hard crack.

A teaspoon of Baking Soda turns it into a volcano of puffed up sugar

The scent of boiling sugared Peppermint is incredibly intense, almost like walking into a world of mint.

Adding a dribble of green food colouring will bring a hint of minty velvet to the marshmallows as opposed to a lime green fairy liquid colour.

If you'd like to make any of Louise's recipes, you can read them here I will be sharing some of Louise's sugarcraft tips with you too, so keep a look out for those, as Louise is a lady who really knows her sugar.

I have some more wonderful McKinney's sugar fun coming up over the next few days including my afternoon with four children decorating Gingerbread Houses.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Sunday
Dec162012

Christmas Present Shopping at Marks and Spencer for Foodies and Friends

Marks and Spencer is always one of the shops I do a lot of my Christmas shopping in both for gifts, home decore, and Christmas food.  Today I am going to share with you some of my favourite things for Christmas Gifts from Marks and Spencer.

There are few things more pleasurable at Christmas than the smell of mulled cider, wine or juices.  I seem to constantly have a perserving pan filled with spices and liquids simmering away on my stove, when I am expecting company or even just to fill my house with the smells of cinnamon, ginger, cloves and orange.  THe aroma is inviting and the liquid warming and robust to drink.  Serving mulled drinks can be a bit of a pain and this red jug with Scandanivan designs is just the thing.

You can never have a big enough bowl or a sturdy enough wooden spoon in your kitchen.  I love colour, especially red, and this huge bowl is perfect for mixing cakes, cookies and bread in, and these spoons will mix even the stiftest of doughs.  What is it about wooden spoons, that they bring so much pleasure to the mixer! I love them, and use them constantly.

 

These cake stands make me smile.  The little one is a good size for children to leave Santa a mince pie on Christmas eve, while the larger one would work for a whole array of Christmas purposes - cake, buns, mince pies, and cheese.  These to me are items that will bring years of pleasure and use.

Vetiver is one of my favourite scents, I love its sharp citrusy burst, with a herby undertone.  This Vetiver candle has a full scent that fills a room with freshness.  A pleasant change from all those synthetic Christmas candles out there, that do nothing but fill my head with headaches!

Christmas is all about peace and these mugs with their peace and love messages allow words of life to be declared over everyone who drinks from them.

Tins of sweet biscuits are always handy to have in the cupboard at Christmas, offering a little something to give to visitors or last minute callers to your home, especially if you haven't had time to keep your tins full of baked goodies over the entire Christmas period - from experience I know that is no mean feat.  I love the mesage of joy this tin brings, and I can't wait to fill it full of lovely things and use for years to come.  JOY is another message of Christmas.

I have lots of little people to get small gifts for at Christmas, and I don't buy pointless presents.  I love to give presents that bring people joy, and I have never seen a child's face not erupt into a huge smile the moment Percy Pigs are produced.  These presents are both yummy and practical. For some of the children I have been teaching to cook this year, the Percy Pig timer will be perfect to help them time their own poached eggs, while the mug and keep sake time will get continual use throughout the year, and the tin with the biscuits is perfect for keeping pencils in after the cookies have been consummed.

I love candlelight, and these glass candlesticks make a great addition to any dining table.  I will be using them throughout the year, as nothing but nothing beats eating by candlelight.

I love chocolate but not just any chocolate - it has to be dark and delicious.  At the end of dinner rather than serve some sort of creamy concoction I have often been known to skip pudding and instead serve bowls of chocolates.  

These Chocolate Almonds bring a flakely almond together with a coating of dark chocolate and a dusting of cocoa powder, they are delicious with a coffee or on their own.  Salted Caramel seems to have been the flavour of 2012, these little balls have a crunch of chocolate and are filled with runny salty caramel, balancing sweet and salty.  

The mint chocolate buttons are perfection.  I really don't like fondent filled dinner mints, what I do love is mint chocolate, and these mints combine the darkest chocolate with pungent mint oil.

Any of these boxed chocolates would make a hostess gift that would be well received, or a great present for doctors, dentists, hairdressers and the like - they are decadent and delicious and packaged in rich chocolate and gold colours, which makes looking at them very appetising.

Serving a bar of chocolate at the end of dinner, especially one filled with crunchy macademia nuts, and chewy caramel nuggets makes of a delicious pudding that lifts the palate after a heavy meal.  I love to serve broken bars of chocolate after an apres-ski fondue, or a heavy roast dinner.  Best of all these chocolate bars are make in Ireland, by Lir Chocolatiers.

How is your Christmas Shopping going?  I hope these ideas have helped you fill the parts of your list that were causing your concern.

Merry Christmas,

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt and Sparkle = Life Remarkable