How to hold the perfect garden party
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How to hold the perfect garden party

Thanks to Nicola Peterson for the creation of her article exclusively for First Home News. 

Precision and planning are two key elements when it comes to holding the ultimate summer get-together. Entertaining friends and family at home can be a great way to celebrate the warmer months. The smell of hot coals and the feeling of the sun beaming down – no one can refuse an invite to a summer garden party. Make it a summer to remember this year by gathering your nearest and dearest for a perfect BBQ shin-dig.

Preparations

Preparations should begin the night before your garden party. You should ensure that the coal for the BBQ is kept in a secure, dry environment. Failure to do so will only dampen the mood when you realise your fuel isn’t fit for use. A gas-burning BBQ would eliminate this extra preparation, but you would need to purchase a gas canister and safely connect it to your grill.

You could even decorate your garden for the summer celebrations. For a quirky British summer vibe, adorn your fence with bunting and streamers to really evoke a feeling of nostalgic street parties of yesteryear.

Food & friends

Forget the charcoal-tainted bangers of last summer, the food you serve at your next BBQ will set the benchmark for future friends’ and relatives’ endeavours. Don’t just blindly grab your apron and get going with whatever meat you could find on offer, plan your menu and offer your guests some options. A BBQ may be a carnivore’s dream, but by adding light salads of couscous and mixed leaves, your guests can take a break from the heavy onslaught of meat.

You could really get the party flowing by creating your own cocktails. Pimms may be the epitome of the Great British summer, but you can add a much more personal touch with a big bowl of homemade punch. Nothing says summer like a refreshing fruity beverage to quench your thirst under the sun.

Practicalities of your party

Although the sunshine is glorious, you’ll need to provide some respite for your guests. Parasols and marquees can offer some much needed shade when the sun is beating down. If any party-goers have forgotten their sun lotion, they’ll need some other form of protection from the relentless rays. You could also leave your kitchen or conservatory doors open to allow people to hide away from the sun if necessary.

When accommodating extra guests, the ‘spare chairs’ just won’t do. Make sure you have outdoor furniture that can stand up against the elements and is in keeping with the style of your garden. Go for lightweight outdoor furniture that gives you the freedom to rearrange sections during your party.

Let’s get out there and make the most of the summer we’ve got left. Great company and great food is all you need to make your party a success, so let’s reclaim our gardens and get cooking. If you think of yourself as a bit of a summer party expert, make sure you comment below, and inform us and your fellow readers of your top tips!

 

Creative commons image sourced on Google Images from Wikimedia Commons

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Enjoy spring cooking in the sun
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Enjoy spring cooking in the sun

As weather forecasters predict a drastic rise in temperatures over the coming week, it’s understandable that many of us will want to head into the garden to basque in the early summer heat. Whether you’re after something light to serve up to friends over the weekend, of just want something simple to cook and enjoy on your patio one evening after work, we’ve got some great, quick and tasty meals for you to enjoy.

Parmesan Spring Chicken

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 egg white
  • 5 tbsp finely grated parmesan
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 400g new potatoes, cut into small cubes
  • 140g frozen peas
  • a good handful of baby spinach leaves
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp olive oil

Method:

  1. Heat your grill to a medium temperature and line the grill pan with foil. Beat an egg white on a plate with a little salt and pepper.
  2. Tip the Parmesan onto another plate, then dip the chicken into the egg white, then the cheese.
  3. Grill the coated chicken for 10-12 minutes, turning until browned and crisp.
  4. Meanwhile, boil the potatoes for 10 minutes, adding the peas for the final 3 minutes, then drain.
  5. Toss the vegetables with the spinach leaves, vinegar, oil and seasoning to taste.
  6. Divide up into four plates, and then serve with the chicken.

Spring Salmon with Minty Vegetables

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

  • 750g small new potatoes, thickly sliced
  • 750g frozen peas and beans
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • The zest and juice off of 1 lemon
  • small pack of mint  (leaves only)
  • 4 salmon fillets about 140g/5oz each

Method:

  1. Boil the potatoes in a large pan for 4 minutes. Tip in the peas and beans, bring back up to a boil, and then carry on cooking for another 3 minutes until the potatoes and beans are tender.
  2. Mix the olive oil, lemon zest and juice and mint in a blender to make a dressing
  3. Put the salmon in a microwave-proof dish, season, and then pour the dressing over. Cover with cling film, pierce and microwave on high heat for 4-5 minutes until cooked through. Drain the vegetables and mix with the hot dressing and cooking juices from the fish.
  4. Serve the fish on top of the vegetables.

 

Spring Fish Pie

Serves: 2

Ingredients:

  • 250g bag washed leaf spinach
  • 450g small new potatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • 300g skinless, boneless white fish fillet, cut into large chunks
  • 100g half-fat crème fraîche
  • juice ½ lemon
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Method:

  1. First, heat your oven to 220C and then tip the spinach into a colander in the sink and tip the potatoes into a saucepan.
  2. Bring a kettle full of water to the boil and pour enough over the potatoes to cover and slowly pour the rest over the spinach to wilt it. Bring the potatoes to the boil and cook for 8-10 minutes until tender, then drain and mash.
  3. Leave the spinach to cool, and then squeeze out excess water with your hands. Scatter the spinach over the bottom of an ovenproof dish, leaving two gaps for the eggs.
  4. Crack the eggs into the gaps, then season with salt and pepper. Distribute the fish over the spinach and eggs. Spread over the crème fraîche and drizzle with the lemon juice. Loosely spoon over the potatoes, drizzle over the olive oil, then bake for 20-25 minutes until the top is crispy and golden and the sauce is bubbling at the sides.
  5. Leave to stand for a few minutes, and then serve straight from the dish.

 

Photo Credit: Hagens_world via Compfight cc

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Best barbecue recipes
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Best barbecue recipes

Summer is just around the corner, and in many of our heads, this means glorious sun drenched weekends out in the garden, barbecuing up delicious foods and enjoying our favourite refreshing beverages. Following on from our barbecue buying guide posted last week, we’re here to provide you with some great barbecue recipes if you want to stray slightly from the traditional burger and hot dog.

Flame cooked Cajun fish

Main ingredients

4 x 200 g white fish fillets, such as seabass, snapper, bream or pollock (approx. 2cm thick), skin on, scaled and pinboned, one lemon

For the rub you’ll need:

Ten sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked, four sprigs of fresh oregano, two cloves of garlic, two level teaspoons of smoked paprika, one teaspoon of cayenne pepper, one teaspoon of sea salt, one level teaspoon of finely ground black pepper, two tablespoons olive oil, one lemon.

Cooking instructions

  • To make the rub, you need to combine a few of your ingredients. If you have a pestle and mortar, mash up your fresh herbs and garlic in it until you’ve got a nice coarse paste (if not, use a blender or any other means to mix them).
  • Add the spices, salt, pepper and olive oil to your mixture, and then proceed to squeeze in the juice of half your lemon. Squeeze the lemon through your fingers, to prevent any pips getting into the mix.
  • Next, grab your fish and, using a sharp knife, lightly score the skin of your fish.
  • Now, it might get a bit messy – rub your mix into both sides of your fish using your fingers.
  • Massage the mixture thoroughly all over the fish, and push firmly into the scores to allow the rub to infiltrate the fish.
  • Place the fish into a non-stick pan and cook on a medium-high heat, skin side down, for 3 to 4 minutes.
  • Once you’ve initially sealed the fish all over, make sure that you turn the heat down to low, then, very carefully, flip your fish over. Cook for another 3 to 4 minutes on the second side, and check that the fish is cooked through before removing from the heat.

 

 

Spiced chicken kebabs

Main ingredients

500 g chicken breasts. Assorted vegetables, such as courgettes, mixed peppers. mushrooms and onions. 6-8 skewers

For the marinade you’ll need:

A handful of fresh coriander, a handful of fresh mint, 3 cloves of garlic, 6 spring onions, one red chilli, the zest and juice of 1 lemon, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, a splash of olive oil.

  • Firstly, take your chicken breast, cut them into one inch cubes and place in a bowl.
  • Next, blanch the courgette strips in salted boiling water for 30 seconds before  then draining and allowing to cool.
  • Blitz all the remaining marinade ingredients (except the olive oil) together and then add olive oil whilst stirring, until you’re left with a loose paste.
  • Add the marinade to the prepared chicken pieces and together until all chicken is covered evenly.
  • Cover the bowl with foil or cling film, and store in the fridge for around an hour, allowing the chicken to marinade and the taste to develop.
  • Next, take your skewers and add the chicken and chopped assorted vegetables.
  • When ready, grill for around 5 minutes, turning regularly, until cooked.

Photo Credit: Mimolalen via Compfight cc

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Barbecue buying guide
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Barbecue buying guide

With the warm summer finally within touching distance, we’re all guilty of starting to dream of lazy weekends in the garden, over indulging in food and drink as we enjoy a well deserved break from work. Cooking up burgers, sausages and other meats over the open flame of a barbecue has become almost synonymous with the warm weather of summer, however if you’ve only recently moved into your new home, the chances are you’ll need to invest in a new barbecue before you can begin to plan your summer get-togethers. From solid structures to portable gas options, we’ve got you covered with our guide to buying a new barbecue.

Charcoal

Charcoal barbecue grills are the traditional option when it comes to cooking your meats outdoors. They have a number of advantages over the competition, and when utilised correctly, they are a great option for your garden. In terms of cooking the food, generally the burning charcoal means that meats can be cooked at a hotter temperature, and the flame grilled cooking style means the meats taste authentically barbecued to the palate.  Of course, when comparing to competitors, there are always going to be drawbacks, and the messy nature of cooking over burning coals is one downfall. If you’re cooking for a vast amount, you may need to restock on charcoal, as the initial heat soon dies away when cooking, and as the device is dangerously hot, the barbecue and surrounding area will need your full attention to avoid accidents.

Gas

Gas barbecues are a more convenient option when it comes to cooking, and the simple push-button starting mechanism provides an instant flame, on which you can begin cooking in around 10 minutes. Above the burners are flavouriser bars, which heat up and play the role that charcoal would on a traditional barbie. With the gas grill you get burner controls similar to a cooker, meaning you can quickly and easily manipulate temperatures to give you immediate desired results.  Contrary to what many people believe, there’s actually very little to no difference in taste when compared to a charcoal barbecue. The adjustability of gas means that it’s easier to cook food more evenly, with less risk of burning. After use, there’s no charcoal ash to dispose of, meaning that the process is far less messy, and easier to clean.

Charcoal options

You have many options available when opting for a charcoal barbecue. If you want to make a garden feature of your grill area, one great option is to build the supporting brickwork yourself. This means that the structure will constantly be on show in your garden. Once the building work is done, all you’ll ever need for your barbecue is the grill section, which can be picked up from Argos for as little as £30

For something more portable, our top option when it comes to a stand alone barbecues is this Weber model, which has a great design and is truly built to last. The round design means heat gets focused and the multiple vents allow you to control the temperatures with ease. With smoking capabilities, the large grilling area gives you plenty of space for direct and indirect grilling and even  comes with an optional rotisserie kit.

Gas options

Typically quite pricey options, there are plenty of designs out there to suit every need when it comes to gas barbecuing. Make sure you do thorough research into models before jumping in with a purchase, but here are a couple of our favourites for you to consider.

Make sure you set your budget before beginning to look at grills, as prices can easily head into the thousands. In our eyes, the king of the reasonably priced gas barbecue is this Broil King, which has three stainless steel Dual-tube main burners and allows you to cook and heat a variety of foods at the same time.

If you’re looking for something more modest in price, stores like B&Q have a range of options that are reliable, hard wearing and well priced, like this Bondi model. The grill and warming rack combination means you can cook items and then keep them heated until you’re ready to serve.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Brooks via Compfight cc

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Pancake day perfection: A guide to cooking pancakes
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Pancake day perfection: A guide to cooking pancakes

Whether you’re looking to treat your children with a mountain of pancakes, or you just want to follow tradition and enjoy a simple evening meal, pancakes are a must om 4th March. Whilst the link may seem tenuous, historically pancakes are associated with the day preceding Lent as a means of eating up dairy products prior to the 40 days of Lent fasting. Whilst milk, flour and eggs might not seem like the ultimate of Lent breaking temptations, many cultures prohibit the consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs over the fasting season, meaning making pancakes is the the perfect way to use up those unwanted ingredients. Whilst these customs don’t particularly translate to the modern day, pancakes are still enjoyed by many households across the UK on Shrove Tuesday. If you’re wanting to indulge, but need pointing in the right direction recipe-wise, here is our quick and easy cooking guide.

To start, make sure that you have all your ingredients at hand. To serve four, you’ll need to make sure that you have the following quantities:

  • 200g/7oz plain flour
  • 350-400ml/12-14fl oz milk.
  • 2 large eggs, lightly whisked
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • Pinch salt
  • Vegetable oil for frying

To begin, tip all your flour into a large bowl, with mounds around the edge and ensuring that there is a visible dip in the middle of the bowl. In this well, pour your milk and eggs. Give the mixture a relatively short whisk, starting with the liquid elements and then proceeding to mix the flour in. Continue to whisk until you have a smooth batter. Alternatively, if you’re making the recipe in larger quantities for a greater number of eaters, tip the mixture into a blender to quicken the process.

Next, simply add a tablespoon of vegetable oil and whisk thoroughly until it is no longer visible.

Select your pan – preferably something that is non-stick, so it can either be a specialised crêpe pan, or large frying pan. Swab the bottom of your pan with kitchen roll dipped in oil and, taking care to not cover any areas in excess. Heat the pan over a medium heat for a minute to warm the pan up, and then move on to the cooking process.

For a traditional crispy and thin pancake, add between three quarters and a full ladel of the batter to your pan. Immediately begin to ‘swirl’ your pan, in order to level out the mixture and cover the base of your pan.

Cook the pancake for approximately 30-40 seconds. After a quick flash cooking, check the underside of the pancake to ensure it is cooking and not beginning to blacken.  Cook until golden brown and then proceed to flip. Cook the other side similarly for around 40 seconds, before checking to see if cooked.

Photo Credit: chestnutgrey via Compfight cc

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Cooking for a dinner party
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Cooking for a dinner party

When hosting a dinner party, your mind is occupied with hundreds of thoughts, doubts and worries. It’s only natural to panic and want the whole experience of cooking to be over; however don’t fret, as these three quick and easy recipes are sure to leave your guests impressed come the end of the evening.

Super tasty Spanish roast chicken with chorizo and potatoes

Chorizo is so versatile it can be utilised in an abundance of recipes, but we’ve just picked out one for you. This dish is sure to get everyone salivating and, as an added bonus, it fills the house with fantastic smells.

Ingredients include:

1.6 kg potatoes, 4 lemons, 1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, 2 kg higher-welfare chicken, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, chorizo sausage, olive oil, 2 cloves garlic.

The Method

Preheat your oven to 220ºC and proceed to place potatoes and 2 lemons into a small pan of water before boiling for 5 minutes. After this, drain and then prick the lemons with a knife so that when you put them inside the chicken later, the juices will be released. Remove the parsley leaves from their stalks. Fill the chicken with the stalks and the hot lemons, then season the chicken and potatoes with a pinch of salt and pepper and slice your chorizo.

Lay out a piece of grease proofing paper on a baking tray. Place the potatoes in the centre of the tray followed by the chicken on top and sprinkle the chorizo with some of the chopped parsley. Put in the oven and leave for just under an hour and a half.

While you are waiting for the chicken and potatoes to cook, finely chop the two remaining lemons and mix them with the chopped parsley and garlic. You can also season this with a pinch of salt and pepper to create a fragrant, seasoning garnish. Remove the tray from the oven, take the chicken out and put to one side to rest. Give the potatoes a shake about and put them back in the oven for a few minutes until they are crispy.

When everything is cooked, carve the chicken and enjoy the smoky paprika flavour from the chorizo. Rocket salad goes well with this aswell.

Chilli Con Carne

There are many myths and rumours about the origins of a classic chilli, but all we can be sure of is that the classic dish that will have everyone asking for seconds. You can alter the portions of chilli depending on your taste. This recipe will make enough for six people.

Ingredients include:

2 medium onions, 2 cloves garlic, 2 medium carrots, 2 sticks celery, 2 red peppers, olive oil, 1 heaped teaspoon chilli powder, 1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin, 1 heaped teaspoon ground cinnamon, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, 400g tinned chickpeas, 400g tinned red kidney beans, 800g tinned chopped tomatoes, 500g quality minced beef, 1 small bunch fresh coriander, 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 400g basmati rice, 500g natural yoghurt, 230g guacamole, 1 lime

Method

Peel and finely chop the carrots, onions, garlic and celery. Halve the red peppers, removing the seeds and stalks along the way. Place your largest casserole type pan on a medium to high heat. Add two swigs of olive oil and all your chopped vegetables. Throw in the chilli powder, cumin, cinnamon and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir the pan every 30 seconds for 7 minutes or until the mixture is softened and lightly coloured.

After this, add the drained chickpeas, kidney beans and the tinned tomatoes. Then add the minced beef, breaking up large chunks with a wooden spoon. Add a small cup of water to the pan.

Place the coriander leaves in the fridge and finely chop the washed stalks and stir them into the pan. Add the balsamic vinegar and season with a good pinch of salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to the boil and turn the heat down to a simmer for about an hour. Don’t forget to stir every now and then.

Divide the rice and chilli into bowls or serve the two in the middle of the table and let everyone help themselves. Instead of rice, you can also try fresh, crusty bread or a jacket potato.

 

Fish baps with mushy peas and tartare sauce

This special twist on a fish finger sandwich is a recipe that will surprise and delight any guest.

Ingredients include:

For the baps

4 nice soft whole wheat baps,4 large (halved) or 8 small (roughly 480g in total) flat-fish fillets (such as plaice, lemon sole, megrim or dab), 1 pinch cayenne pepper, ½ a mug plain flour, olive oil, 25g Parmesan cheese, 1 punnet cress, 1 lemon

For the peas

1 medium potato, 500g frozen peas, ½ a bunch of fresh mint

For the sauce

6 gherkins, 1 tablespoon capers, 1 little gem lettuce, 250g fat-free natural yoghurt, ¼ a bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, 1 lemon

Method

Preheat the oven at 130°C/250°F/gas ½. Put the baps in the oven. Slice the potato to half centimetre thickness, place into a small pan with boiling water and place a lid over it and let it come to the boil.

On some greaseproof paper, season the fish with salt, pepper and the cayenne. Then sprinkle flour over it as a coating.

Pour 2 tablespoons of oil into a frying pan and add the fish. Cook the fish until golden and grate the Parmesan finely over the top when you flip it over. Tip the frozen peas into the small pan with the potato and then add in the leafy top half of the mint and replace the lid.

Put the gherkin, capers, lettuce and yoghurt into a food processor. Add shreds of half the parsley, squeeze in the lemon juice, blend and pour into a bowl.

Drain the peas and potatoes. Once the fish is cooked, get the baps out of the oven and serve with the peas and tartare sauce alongside pinches of cress and lemon wedges.

 

These three recipes can easily be made by a cooking novice, and are sure to leave your guests impressed. If you have a favourite ‘go-to’ meal for a dinner party, let us know in the comments section below.

 

Photo Credit: such pretty things via Compfight cc

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