I'm excited to feature a guest post by Denby, sharing with you how to create the prettiest and most stylish al fresco dining this spring!
In this article, Hayley Baddiley, Global Marketing Director at Denby, shares her tips for putting together a spring-themed dinner party in your garden.
As lockdown begins to ease, you might be looking forward to welcoming a small group of loved ones round for a long-overdue get-together this spring. Since March 29th, gatherings of up to six are permitted outdoors, with more restrictions set to lift as the year goes on. And, with warmer weather on its way, it really is the perfect time to host a dinner party at home in your garden.
Below, I'll share my tips for putting together a picture-perfect gathering to treat the people you've missed the most.
Start with your menu
We're all craving a holiday, so when putting together your menu, why not take inspiration from our favourite holiday destinations? From Italian pasta dishes to Spanish paella and tapas, the foods served in the sunniest spots in Europe all encourage sharing and socialising — perfect for your springtime celebration.
You can also serve some stylish charcuterie alongside your dishes to really give off that group holiday vibe. A selection groaning with meats, cheeses, pickles, and fruits served along with a choice of wines and cordials is sure to delight your guests! Serving a hot dish with accompanying cold nibbles means that everyone can eat their fill, and continue to graze as the evening goes on.
Prepare the dining area
Make sure there's adequate space for a dining table and chairs, trimming bushes and hedgerows back if you need to, and try to leave extra space around the table so people can continue to socially distance. In terms of décor, you can continue the holiday theme by adding coastal decorations such as seashells, or drape colourful silks and fabrics to give the feel of a foreign marketplace or bazaar.
Finally, don't forget to include plenty of light after sunset. Fairy lights and electric lanterns designed for outdoor use, plus a few tabletop candles in secure candleholders, should do the trick safely and give a soft lighting effect to your dinner party. It's wise to leave out a few blankets for your guests to get under too — British spring weather can still be chilly!
Setting the table
The great thing about dinner parties is that the right dishes can do most of the wowing, so you don’t need to decorate your table much at all. In fact, all the different colours, textures, and other visual elements of a charcuterie board or graze box mean that they make great edible displays or centrepieces. So, start with a stunning board or box and plan where to put the rest of your dishes and carafes around that.
Focus on the colours of your food and make those pop with contrastingly coloured and patterned tableware — some attractive, high quality ceramics can really elevate your table. Don't neglect to garnish, either: you can liven up a dull looking dish with a sprig of green herb or a sprinkle of chillies. Your guests won't be able to resist taking a few photos!
The tips in this guide can help you put together a garden party for a small group of six this spring. Remember to check the latest government guidelines while planning your party, and you're sure to create an evening to remember.
I always include banana bread on my breakfast platters. And why not? it's basically an excuse to start your day with cake!
I've tried a few recipes now and wanted to share my three favourites: the moist & crunchy one, the 'free-from' and the indulgent chocolate one!
Banana buttermilk bread from the Violet Bakery cookbook by Claire Ptak
Super moist with a generous amount of banana and a lovely sugary crunch crust! If you got Amazon vouchers for Christmas then definitely treat yourself to the book - it's packed with so many delicious and beautiful recipes.
Walnut and flaxseed banana bread - gluten free, dairy free and vegan!
Henrietta Inman's recipe is delicious and appealed to me straight away as it wasn't sold as a free-from loaf. And I love a cake with ground almonds; I'll definitely be making it again. It was still super moist the day after I'd made it too.
I'm often asked for gluten free platters so thought I'd share some of my favourite gluten free recipes.
I cook a lot with oats and love Flahavan's; it has been milling oats at the family mill in Co. Waterford for over 200 years. My go-to for gluten free is Bob's Red Mill; it produces oats and oat flour too so it's useful for plenty of recipes.
Oat & Hazelnut tart
I've lost count of the number of times I've made this, it's like a giant nutty oatcake. The original recipe is by Henrietta Inman - I just mix up the toppings:
-Turkish spiced butternut squash by Rebecca Seal topped with courgette shavings and pistachio dukkah. I use the River Cottage recipe.
-Alternatively I smother it with ricotta, swirl in pesto and top with roasted peppers.
Chocolate and cherry energy balls
These are great as they last ages in the freezer. You can take one or two out to have with your mid morning coffee and they'll keep you going until lunch. I've adapted a few cacao and nut recipes I've tried to include my favourite flavours - pecan and cherry!
Recipe below - makes around 20 balls.
90g cherries - I use Urban Fruit that have have no added sugar or preservatives.
1 teaspoon of almond butter
1 teaspoon of agave or brown rice syrup (or honey if they don't need to be vegan)
They last a good few days in the fridge and a couple of months at least in the freezer.
Clementine and almond cake
I often add this to my dessert platters. As it is super moist and squidgy it feels more like a dessert than a slice of cake. Recipe is by Nigella. It uses ground almonds, just check the baking powder you are using is gluten free.
Sometimes I drizzle with raspberry icing or top with a spoon of lemon curd and toasted almonds. It freezes really well too so perfect if you need to prepare in advance.
I’m not one to get sucked in to the latest food fad, however there’s no denying the current trend towards a more plant-based diet. For some years now I’ve got into the routine of veggie cooking during the week, saving a slow cooked meat dish for the weekend - it just seemed to make sense as part of my lifestyle and became a routine really. And I do have a few routines when it comes to eating! My post pilates brunch on a Wednesday has to be eggs, the kids always have pasta on a Thursday before swimming and Friday night can’t be anything other than curry!
So here are my top 3 plant based recipes that have become firm favourites as part of our routine!
Artichoke and white bean on toast - with lemon and capers
This a great speedy lunch or a lovely canape using a jar of artichokes and butter or cannellini beans. Spread generously onto rye bread or toasted sourdough, I love to go to Gails for sourdough. It's always a good excuse to pop in for other treats and goodies!
400g tin butter beans / cannellini beans - drained
280g jar of artichokes - drained
½ clove garlic
Handful fresh basil
Juice of 1 or 2 lemons
Olive oil, salt and pepper
Capers and lemon zest
Recipe adapted from Pinch of Yum
Turmeric and coconut baked cauliflower
I make a LOT of veggie curries; they are such an easy way to get more veg into your diet - cauliflower, aubergines and spinach are some of my favourites. This recipe is by Anna Jones from The Modern Cook’s year but I also love Meera Sodha for veg and vegan inspiration.
A whole roast cauliflower makes a great centrepiece and you can play around with this to make it as spicy as you like!
If you don’t need this to be vegan and wanted it to stretch even further some paneer is a tasty addition!
Beetroot & red onion tarte tatin
I do love an apple tarte tatin, especially at Terroirs in Covent Garden - theirs is definitely a winner! For ages I've fancied trying a savoury one.
This beetroot and red onion tarte tatin was delicious and really easy. Perfect served with a crisp green salad.
I'm always about the all butter puff pastry but there are plenty of vegetarian & vegan options available, such as this one. Jus-rol also does a gluten free version too.
I had so much fun attending a networking event this week in Balham, hosted by the wonderful All By Mama I'm not a natural networker AT ALL but I made my self get amongst it and met some really interesting people, many in the same boat as me. It's really encouraging to have a great support network, especially when you've taken the plunge both making a career change and working for yourself.
Looking forward to the next meet-up!
I'm not a massive meat-eater but if I'm going out for lunch or dinner it's definitely still something I often choose. For a treat on my husband's birthday we went to Smokestak for a boozy, meaty lunch. It's been on my hitlist for ages and we loved it!
My fave dish was the ox cheek cubes and anchovy mayo - delicious! I almost ordered seconds!
I loved the aubergine too - really sticky with loads of miso.
We went for cocktails instead of pudding and then legged it to pick the kids up.
It was a bizarrely hot September afternoon so we made full use of the outside benches, but I can't wait to come back in winter and sink a few red wines in the smokey inside.