Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Festive Parties!

The festive season is around the corner and house parties with friends and family are going to fill your schedules. The hautest trend on the party scene is Tapas style parties in which the focus is on an array of appetizers rather than an elaborate meal. Here are two ideas for great gatherings this festive season.

A Mediterranean Mezze

Mezze is the practice of serving small plates of tasty food with drinks all over the Mediterranean. Not only is it visually appealing, but also makes life easier on the host who is free to enjoy the occasion once the Mezze is laid out. A Mezze-themed party is a relaxed way to entertain. 

It will offer an element of exoticism and fun, allowing for variety and colour with everything from décor to food and offers the host a chance to actually spend time with their guests. Mezze style dining calls for a variety of simple, cold foods served together. It allows the host to lay out a large variety of dishes without spending the entire evening in the kitchen. Especially since the great thing is that the Mezze IS the meal and needs nothing more. In addition to being a great way to serve food, it is also healthy, allowing one to avoid overdosing on the usual fried finger foods. 

Lay out Mezze bowls and platters on a large buffet table or multiple low coffee tables around the room. Plan to serve lots of dips like Hummus, Labneh, Tzatziki, Baba Ganouj that can be made ahead, and salads like tabouleh and fatoush that require a little assembly just before serving. Add a lot of black, green and stuffed olives, cheeses, roasted nuts, pickled vegetables, dried berries and fresh fruit wedges, pita and Lavash bread to the offerings. Also include a few bottles of good wine and a couple of good desserts and you’re on your way to a great evening!

A lovely sweet to serve to finish with is Baklava. This rich and delicious sweet is the perfect union of nutty and sweet and can be made ahead with readymade phyllo pastry or other similar thin party sheets from our international section. 

Place the food in large chunky earthen bowls and hand painted ceramic crockery in shades of blue and yellow which is typical of the Middle East and Mediterranean. If you are expecting a big crowd, plan on multiple serving bowls of each item - better to have three small bowls of hummus rather than just one big one. Add pretty patterned napkins and let everyone help themselves!

For décor, use draping fabrics of earthy reds, yellows and turquoise and blues on low coffee tables and scatter colourful floor cushions to sit on. Keep the lighting muted and sparkle up the room with clusters of chunky candles of different heights. 

A Spanish Tapas Party

Another great idea is a Spanish Tapas Party. Spanish cuisine is still young in India, but it is quickly becoming the cuisine in vogue. In the Spanish cuisine, dinner is very different from what we know it to be. It is a small, light meal, often eaten at a tapas bar. Tapas originated in the bars of Spain. The word tapa translates to ‘cover’ or ‘lid’ and the earliest tapas were slices of ham, cheese or bread laid across patrons' sherry glasses to keep the insects out. They have now translated to a variety of hot or cold dishes that can be served in small portions.

This is a good style of dining for New Year’s Eve parties because while everyone’s focus is on drinks, and the starters are constantly munched on, a main course meal may be neglected by many. But with a Tapas party, the main course is completely omitted and the tapas are the whole meal. 

Like the Mezze, with this style too, it is convenient for the host to provide variety. One can lay out some cooked tapas dishes which are simple to put together a little in advance. Some delicious ones include patatas bravas, sizzling shrimp, empanadas, and some braised mushrooms or peppers that can be served on toasted slices of baguette, but the options are virtually endless. To accompany this, you can also serve some ready foods such as roasted almonds, stuffed olives, and a cold meat platter, all of which are available on our shelves. Spanish wines, sherries and sangria are ideal to pair with this feast. Lay out the spread in a buffet style and arrange small plates in stacks so guests can serve themselves. Also supply cocktail sticks for spearing food and colourful cloth or paper napkins.

Décor should be centered on rich, rustic red hues that are associated with Spain, and some upbeat Spanish guitar music is perfect to set the fiesta mood.

These are just a few ideas to spice up your festivity, but a point to remember is when the host has fun planning a party, the guests have an even bigger ball of a time! 

A Jar of Love!

Christmas is the season of gifts and homemade do-it-yourself (DIY) gifts are a great way to show you care. More so because they can be personalized individually for your loved ones and the thought and effort that you put into the gift really shines through, making it a much better appreciated than any store bought gift.

And festive season is a time for indulgence, most importantly edible indulgence. And homemade handmade treats are always appreciated. Think of beautiful jars of jams, jellies, chutneys, cookies, baked treats and even layered desserts. What better gift at this time of year?

Jars are a great receptacle to package all kinds of festive goodies. They showcase the colours of the many ingredients you might put into them beautifully and are extremely convenient to carry as gifts. Fill up the jars with whatever you like, tie the jar’s rim with a pretty ribbon, add a personalized gift tag with a note, and you are ready!

When you think jars, the first thing that comes to mind is of course, jam. While spiced jams are lovely and the first thing that comes to mind, try something unusual this time. Rich amber salted caramel sauce, tart, sunny yellow lemon curd, and pungent fresh-ground mustard sauce, are just a few ways to do this. We have a host of lovely ingredients to play around with, from Italian lemons to fresh berries, to bottle into all manner of indulgences. 

Jars can also be used to elegantly package homemade cookies, chocolates, fudge, or any other small sized sweets. Or try your hand at making some other unique and interesting fillers for these jars: chocolate coated coffee beans, chocolate-dipped honeycombs, meringues, mini-macaroons and caramel coated walnuts.

Fun festive pre-mixes are also great in-a-jar presents. These are especially enjoyed by those who love to bake and cook. Everything from bread and cookies to caramel popcorn and hot chocolate can be made into creative personalized presents. Just neatly layer all the dry ingredients in a clean attractive jar, add a printed recipe label, or hand-write it for a more personal touch. Try fruit-cake or gingerbread cookie mixes in the spirit of Christmas.

For those who just want to dig right in, a pre-mix jar may not be the ideal gift, but they are sure to love the dessert in a jar concept. Jars are adorable for so many desserts, and you’d be surprised that it’s not just the cold set desserts like tiramisu and trifle that work well in these little glass containers. Custards, cakes, and pies can also be made in jars by baking them in a water bath (so the jars don’t break). Layered cakes like rainbow cakes, or different flavoured cakes are a great idea here.

If you love the idea of little containers of edible gifts in the form of jars, and want to gift someone a whole lot of them, hampers are the perfect way to do so! Pick specific items that a friend would really enjoy, or simply work around a central flavour or theme- biscotti, coffee grounds, chocolate-coated coffee beans, and say, some caramel sauce to add into the coffee. Have fun personalizing gifts for those you love!

Thursday, 19 December 2013


With winter setting in, fresh berries are available in plenty, and the time has come again, to relish these little juicy explosions of flavour, by themselves, or with a big dollop of cream. Although this classic way of eating berries will never fail to please, we have several exciting suggestions to change it up this winter.

Berries do a lot more than just look pretty and taste delicious; they are also full of fibre, vitamins and anti-oxidants. A fresh, seasonal produce has the highest nutritional value, so load up on fresh berries while you can!

With the holiday season around the corner, everyone is in the mood for luxurious Sunday brunches and indulgent holiday breakfasts. And berries can really brighten up breakfasts. Serve them up as is, add them to your muesli or cereal. Berry stuffed crepes or pancakes are a beautiful way to start the day!

 While you cannot go wrong with using berries in sweet foods, they also lend themselves very well to savoury dishes. Berry salads are another great way to go. Change up the standard fruit salad with a berry panzanella, a salad with pieces of leftover baguette that soak up the juices of the fruit. Also use berries with savoury vegetables to add some creativity and zing to your salads. Try blueberry with cucumber and feta cheese, or strawberries with aragula and goat cheese.

Berries also add a burst of colour to main courses. Try them with meat dishes. Their characteristic sweet and tart flavours complement white meats such as poultry, as well as certain pink and red meats like ham and pork, beautifully. One delicious way to use berries with meat roasts is to prepare a sticky berry glaze or reduction, and simply drizzle it onto the dish. The meat can even be brushed with the glaze before putting it in the oven to roast, and it will come out with a gorgeous caramelized skin.

Desserts, of course, have endless room for these little gems. Warm berry pies are a sure winner as the cold weather approaches. Whether you top the berries on a custard filled pie tart, or simply fill the tart with a chunky berry coulis, this dessert is sure to leave everyone wanting more!

Luscious homemade jams are another fabulous way to harvest the colours and flavours of berries. Jams have universally featured in comfort food, and what’s more, fresh, homemade jams are unmatched in their deliciousness. Imagine spreading some fresh, glistening, ruby red raspberry jam on a slice of warm buttered toast… Not only will these be loved in your own home, but will also make for very elegant personalized gifts during the festive season.

Get adventurous with berries this season, you won’t regret it!