The John Lewis Secret Santa Challenge

It’s far too early for me to be thinking about Christmas, let alone posting about it on here. Never the less, that’s exactly what I’m about to do.

I was recently invited to join the John Lewis Secret Santa Challenge, and, being a bit of a fan of the brand, I couldn’t resist getting involved.

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The colour of summer

One of the best parts of summer for me are the poppy fields on the outskirts of the city near Falmer. Usually in about June the carpets of red are visible from miles around.

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A preview of some new work

Summer fruit sponge cake photography by hew design.co.uk

I’ve been updating my portfolio recently so I thought I’d share a couple of preview pics with you. I think beautiful cakes are probably my most favourite food photography subject – probably because I’m always hopeful a slice might come my way!

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The Brighton Food Society ‘Rocks’ Sussex

Brighton Food Society poster
A few months ago, a twitter chum of mine, Mel, who runs the fantastic food blog Edible Things, tweeted me a link to a request from Andy Lynes (food writer & journalist) for Sussex food writers & bloggers to get in touch about an exiting initiative. I was intrigued. Shortly after contacting Andy, I received an email inviting me to an informal kick-off meeting in a Hove pub.
 
The initiative turned out to be the formation of the Brighton Food Society (founded by Andy Lynes and Patrick McGuigan), a new not-for-profit affiliation of Brighton-based food and drink writers and broadcasters getting together to promote the enjoyment of local food and drink. 
 
Over a few drinks (the drinks may have been a key factor in our enthusiastic planning!), we planned our first event ‘Sussex Rocks’ for the 5th May: we’d cook a meal for 35 invited guests in celebration of Sussex food and drink. Although I really enjoy cooking, I’m not going to kid myself that I’m confident enough to cook for 35 paying guests, and as several of the group are former chefs, I thought it best if I left the serious cooking to the professionals. I opted instead to prepare the petit fours, help with front of house, and to decorate the room.
 
We were all bowled over by the generosity of the local food & drink businesses who kindly donated some of their fine produce for our guests to enjoy. Beer, coffee, potatoes, plates, vinegars and the chocolate for my petit fours, which was kindly donated by Sussex Chocolatiers, Cocoa Loco
 
I think we all underestimated quite how much work would be involved in putting on the event, but I hope our guests would agree that the night itself was a triumph and well worth the ticket price each guest paid – canapés, starter, main, cheese, dessert, coffee & petit fours and a goodie bag full of Sussex produce – all for just £15 each! 
 
My only regret was that in between waiting and clearing tables and helping to assemble dishes, I didn’t manage to get any photos of my petit fours – you’ll just have to take my word for the fact that they were delicious! 
 
Would I do it all again? You betcha!
 
You can find out more about the Brighton Food Society, see the full menu from Saturday, and find out about future events here. Scroll down to see pictures from the event.
 
Cooking Lamb Shanks
Andy Lynes preparing lamb shanks from Standean Butchers
Sussex Rhubarb tart
Patrick McGuigan chopping up rhubarb for his dessert
Preparing Sussex Duck Eggs
Joe shelling a batch of Sussex duck eggs for the starter
Small Batch Coffee
Locally-made Medlar vinegar was drizzled over the asparagus and duck egg starter
Samantha Bilton (www.comfortablyhungry.com) preparing the asparagus
Sussex Asparagus
Members of the Brighton Food Society
Joe, Sam, Andy and Patrick
Brighton Food Journalist, Patrick McGuigan
Left: Patrick (The Cheese Chap) was rather proud of his cheese selection
Right: The goodies our guests received in their ‘party bags’
I don’t think Joe left the kitchen all day!
Becky did a fab job managing Front of House 
Rhubarb Tart production line
Brighton Food Society Sussex Rocks Dinner

Brighton Food Society Sussex Rocks Dinner

 

Book review: Friends at my table by Alice Hart

Friends at my table caught my attention as a cookery book with a difference, offering not only a variety of delicious recipes but a whole host of ‘whimsical’ ideas for entertaining groups of family and friends. With summer approaching, this seemed like the ideal book to give me some inspiration for friendly gatherings.

The recipe pages are lovely and follow the standard cookery book format: recipe and bold accompanying photograph of the dish. The recipes themselves are tempting and relatively fuss-free. One particular favourite was the Lemon and Rosemary tart – two flavours I would never have imagined putting together – but complimented each other perfectly. Her menu suggestions are thoughtful and creative and she bravely breaks with tradition: a beach picnic menu without any mention of sausage rolls was truly refreshing.

The book is spilt into themed sections and each is interspersed with, what the author describes as, ‘whimsical’ ideas for entertaining: games, activities and ideas for themed events. This was a lovely touch and I particularly liked the cloud spotting feature and accompanying watercolour illustrations.

My one gripe with the book is the images. Although the photography was beautiful, for a book with entertaining loved ones at its core some of the pictures often lacked atmosphere. In fact, in many of the sections dedicated to entertaining large groups there were no people in the photographs at all.

The book starts well with a beautiful ‘Vietnamese Bridal shower for 8’, which Hart states is merely a suggested theme for any kind of spring supper. The menu plan is creative and achievable and the accompanying photographs feature a group of young women eating together and enjoying themselves. It was all rather lovely and without doubt helped me easily imagine how I might organise something similar.

However, as the book progresses there is a distinct lack of people in any of the pictures. One particular section titled ‘Beach Cricket Barbeque for 6’ had the potential to be really inspiring. All the recipes and games had been designed, as you would expect, for 6 people and the section provided guidance for how the whole family – even the dog – could get involved in beach cricket. Brilliant. However, the photographs in that section either featured the same two women on a deserted stony beach or a no people at all. It just felt a bit cold and lonely and was crying out for some beautiful shots of people having fun to really stimulate the imagination of the reader.

Overall, I did enjoy Friends at my Table and there were many recipes that I will definitely return to. Hart has a warm and confident writing style and throughout the book reassures readers that cooking for large numbers of people is just a matter of keeping the menu simple, planning in advance and above all, having fun.

Forced Rhubarb Jam

 

 

All images ©Heather Wilkinson 2011-12


Filled with enthusiasm after my marmalade success, I decided to try my luck at making jam. I’m literally obsessed with Forced Rhubarb at the moment, and I really liked the idea of being able to still enjoy it after the season finishes. 

I opted for Pam ‘The Jam’ Corbin’s (River Cottage) recipe. According to Pam, this is supposed to be a soft jam, but that seemed open to interpretation. I mean, how soft is soft? To me, that seemed like crucial information for a novice jam-maker.

I followed the recipe to the letter and soaked my rhubarb in layers of sugar and orange juice overnight.  The following day, boiling the jam and setting it literally took less than 30 mins, although it might have been quicker if I hadn’t spent so much time fiddling about while trying to sterilise my jars. 

My finished jam was indeed soft, but so not much that it slides off your bread. And the taste, my goodness this stuff is heavenly! Add a generous spoonful on top of your morning porridge for a scrumptious start to the day. 

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