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A DELICIOUS TRADE
November 3, 2009, 4:39 pm
Filed under: making nice, yummy in the tummy

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I love to read.

So of course, once upon a time I belonged to a book club.  Admittedly, it was not the most serious of book clubs — though the one I was in before this one was.  But alas, a few babies and new jobs amongst our members later, and fewer and fewer of us can commit to reading the same book every few weeks anymore.

But, we still want to see each other and drink wine.  So what were we girls to do but make a little trade — the book club has now become a supper club.  Well actually, its trial run was for Sunday lunch — even better than supper in some ways.  It’s OK with me, it means more opportunities to cook for a crowd AND a chance to make my way through the stash of books on my shelf that never seemed to make it to the book club list.

The idea of the new club is that each time we meet, the host chooses a theme and cooks the main dish.  Everyone else brings a complementary side or dessert, and that’s that.  Oh, and boys are allowed now too, when we want them.

I was the first host and thought, what better way to usher in a busy autumn but with a comfort food theme?  So we were comforted by fish pie, cauliflower cheese and carrot cake – YUM.  I didn’t eat till the next day’s lunch!

FISH PIE
From Tana Ramsay’s Family Kitchen

Ingredients

For the pie:
300g cod, skinless and boneless
300g Salmon, skinless and boneless
400ml Milk
1 large Onion, finely chopped
6 baby Leeks, finely sliced
1 tbsp Olive oil
5 large Potatoes
2 tbsp double cream
knob Butter
4 tbsp Cheddar cheese

For the white sauce:
45g Butter
45g Flour
450ml full-fat Milk

Method
1. Put the fish in a pan and cover with the milk. Bring to a gentle simmer and poach the fish. This takes about 10 minutes. Remove the fish with a slotted spoon.
2. Fry the onion and the leeks in a little olive oil until softened. Remove from the heat and flake the fish into the onion and leeks, and mix gently together.
3. Peel and cut the potatoes into large chunks and put in a pan of cold water. Bring to the boil and cook until tender. Drain and put back into the saucepan. Add the cream and a knob of butter, season and mash.
4.    For the white sauce: melt the butter in a small saucepan. Stir in the flour, mixing to a paste, then stir for 1-2 minutes over a medium heat taking care not to let it catch on the bottom. Add the milk gradually, and whisk constantly until it starts to simmer. Leave it to cook over a very low heat, stirring every couple of minutes until it thickens.
5.    Preheat oven to 190C/Gas 5.
6. Mix the white sauce with the fish, onion and leeks and put this mixture into the bottom of an ovenproof dish. Spoon the mash over the top of the fish and vegetables and sprinkle with the cheese.
7. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until bubbling, then put under a preheated grill for a couple of minutes to crisp and brown the top. Serve.

I also add chopped carrots (2-3) in with the onions and leeks in step 2.  And a cup or so of frozen peas in step 6.  You can use semi-skimmed milk where it calls for full fat/cream.  And you can mix up the kinds of fish you use.  Frozen fish works beautifully here — I promise — particularly if you are feeding a crowd.  I used a mix of frozen cod and haddock.

I served this in individual pie dishes, sourced on one of my favourite “off the beaten path” resources, Nisbets Catering, which I learned about in this lovely book and is great for bulk entertaining needs.

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BIRTHDAY PRESENTS
August 6, 2009, 11:00 am
Filed under: making nice

Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me….

Today is my birthday, and to celebrate, my gift to you is a little roundup of my favorite gift-wrapping tips. You know, just in case. {What, for me? Oh, you shouldn’t have. Thanks ever so much…}

I firmly believe that presentation counts. In everything. Even the simplest gift becomes more exciting with a little thought put into how you give it. So without further ado…

1. The basics.

2. There are plenty of gorgeous wrapping papers out there — but please, no sparkles and use a matte finish whenever possible.  It looks so much richer.  There are extraordinarily gorgeous options at Liberty.  {But then, don’t you love just about everything at Liberty?}

3.  Use real ribbon.  Not the kind you curl with scissors, and definitely not the kind with a sticky back.  The real, fabric kind.

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4.  Once you’ve found that wonderful matte paper {bonus if it’s recycled} and paired it with some real ribbon, consider adopting the combination as your signature.  I’ve been doing this for ages and eventually also read the same tip in Domino {sigh}.  Don’t you love it when you read a tip and you’ve already thought of it yourself?  My signature style is kraft paper, accented by a bit of ribbon from my ever-burgeoning collection. The basic, functional style of the kraft paper is balanced by the luxe feel of proper, lush ribbon, which can be selected to suit the occasion.  And I’m never caught in a last-minute gift-wrapping rush.  {Unless of course I leave the actual wrapping till the last minute.  But that, my friends, is another issue entirely.}

5.  How you tie that ribbon makes a big difference too. My cousin taught me this “under-looping” trick that she learned whilst working at Anthropologie. {Coming soon to London!  More on this later…}

Place your present right-side up. Place the ribbon across the top, long ways, so that an equal amount extends beyond the end of the present on each side. Keeping the ribbon in place, turn over the present and make a simple knot with the ribbon {as if you were tying your shoe} in the center of the bottom of the present. Pull the ribbon ends perpendicularly so that they are now reaching across the short length of the present. Flip the box so it is right side up again.

Now here is the trick: Before tying your second knot, which will be the foundation of the bow, pull the ribbon ends *back under* the first part of the ribbon, so that they come out diagonally from each other. Then tie your second knot, and the bow. This ruches the ribbon in a very pretty way and results in a much more cohesive look.

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6.  About that bow…  Add a little extra oomph by tying an extra, short piece of ribbon across the second knot, *before* you tie the bow.  The bow will look like it has four ends, appearing that much more substantial and luxurious.  Remember to hide the short piece under the bow!

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Or, forgo the bow entirely, and just style it up with a few short pieces of ribbon.

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7.  Try making the packaging part of the gift. For a baby shower I attended last weekend, the mom-to-be really, really wanted baby socks. (Incidentally, those in the know recommend Baby Gap for socks that are super-soft and don’t fall off.  Just in case you’re interested.) I wrapped them up in one of these fabric snack bags — what mom can’t use something good-looking AND waterproof? — and voila!  Much more exciting. And eco-friendly, by the way…

Similarly, try including a couple of complementary tiny gifts along with your main gift — this works especially well with wedding registry gifts.  My cousin (yes, the one of the ribbon advice… hi Katie) asked for a griddle, and she received along with it some gourmet blueberry pancake mix and maple syrup.  My friend Catherine asked for a teapot, and she received an accompanying tea strainer, and a jar of lemon curd — an appropriate gesture, we thought, making its way across the pond from London to New York.

Sunday is birthday picnic day…  on Monday look for a birthday bonus cupcake round-up, along with some photos of what will be my first attempt at fancy icing!