Tag Archives: snacks_appetizers

Effortless Entertaining | A Great Cheeseboard

Effortless Entertaining | Create the Perfect Cheeseboard

It’s always lovely to have friends over, but sometimes the thought of planning a sophisticated cocktail party or fancy dinner is overwhelming, especially if you’re already busy and tired (and these days, who isn’t?!). When you want to entertain in a low-key, stress-free way then I suggest throwing a wine and cheese party. Here are my tips for creating the perfect cheeseboard

++ Choose at least 3 different types of cheese: one hard (e.g. Comté or smoked cheddar), one soft and mild (brie is a classic for a reason) and one strong (blue or goat). When eating a cheeseboard, it’s usual to always end with the blue. It can be fun to pick a theme too: all English or all Italian cheeses, for example.

++ Think about colours: green and red grapes with dried apricots and / or cherries are a great way to inject aesthetic interest into your platter.

++ Have a mix of salty and sweet flavours : olives and nuts with fresh figs, honey and dark chocolate (goes very nicely with port!).

++ Group foods together on the platter: it’s a good way to section up the platter according to colour and texture and makes it much more visually appealing.

Effortless Entertaining | Create the Perfect Cheeseboard Effortless Entertaining | Create the Perfect Cheeseboard

What are your own tips for creating a great cheeseboard?

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Butternut Squash and Tahini Dip

Butternut Squash and Tahini Ottolenghi inspired recipe - click through for printable version

When it comes to entertaining, I’m all about keeping it as effortless as possible. As the host, you are responsible for setting the tone, and  being a stressed out mess is the surest way to ruin a party. So my advice is always to keep things simple, plan well and make sure you have fun too. Entertaining can be as pain-free as having some friends round for wine and simple snacks: nuts, a cheese board, crisps and some crudités with a great dip. Rather than emptying out a tub of hummus from Sainsbury’s, I think it’s a nice touch to make your own (it will elevate your party without too much hassle and will always be more delicious). For this Butternut Squash and Tahini dip, the food processor really does all the work so it’s extremely easy to throw together (although do bear in mind the rather long baking time for the squash – this definitely can’t be made in 10 minutes).

I’m a huge fan of Ottolenghi’s recipes, and I discovered this spread in Jerusalem a few weeks ago. I instantly wanted to try it out and was pretty pleased with the results. The recipe calls for date syrup, but I substituted maple syrup (always great with butternut squash), and I couldn’t resist adding a scattering of pomegranates as I’m rather obsessed with this fruit at the moment!

This delicious butternut squash and tahini dip, inspired by an Ottolenghi recipe, is a perfect choice for effortless but elegant entertaining. Click through for the full recipe. This delicious butternut squash and tahini dip, inspired by an Ottolenghi recipe, is a perfect choice for effortless but elegant entertaining. Click through for the full recipe.

Butternut Squash and Tahini Spread
Serves: 6-8
An easy, crowd-pleasing dip.

  • About 970g worth of diced butternut squash (this is a very large squashed, or I used almost 3 bags of already diced fresh squash from M&S, which really does make this dish effortless!)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 70g light tahini paste
  • 120g Greek yoghurt
  • 2 small garlic gloves, crushed
  • 1 tsp mixed black and white sesame seeds (or all white if you don't have black)
  • 1½ tsp maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
  • salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C or 180° Fan.
  2. Spread the squash in a good-sized roasting tin and add the olive oil, cinnamon and ½ teaspoon of salt. Mix everything together well (I just use my hands), cover the tray tightly with foil and roast in the oven for 60-70 minutes, stirring once half way through the cooking. When baked, remove the tin and set aside for the squash to cool.
  3. Once cool, transfer the squash to a food processor bowl, along with the tahini, yoghurt and garlic. Pulse until everything is combined into a coarse paste (don't let it become too smooth).
  4. Spread the dip over a plate and sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Drizzle over the maple syrup and finish with a scattering of pomegranate seeds.


What are your favourite nibbles to serve guests?

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Fig and Halloumi Mezze

Fig and Halloumi Mezze

I had a great time on Wednesday going to a supper club at Barber & Parlour, a fabulous place in Shoreditch that is likely to become one of my favourite new hangouts. I’ll fill you in on more details next week, but today I wanted to talk about the wonderful combination of fig and halloumi. The supper club kicked off with lip-smackingly good cocktails and a fig and halloumi mezze that had me searching the internet for similar recipes after.

I came across this recipe and instantly set about recreating the dish I so enjoyed at Barber & Parlour. I adore halloumi, and this salty cheese is even better when paired with the sweetness of figs and honey. I recommend whipping this mezze up as a show-stopping but easy starter for whenever you have friends round for dinner. Serve with prosecco or cocktails alongside and dig in!

Fig and Halloumi Mezze

The only difference I made to the original recipe was to add in 2 fresh figs as well as the cooked ones. I can never get enough figs! I would probably leave aside the peppercorns next time too, as I didn’t feel they added a great deal to the dish. Aside from that though, the mezze was rather delicious, and I could happily spoon the honey and balsamic vinegar glaze straight from the pan into my mouth, if that were at all acceptable.

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Beer Cheese Recipe


This recipe comes from my Uncle Grant, who knows how to host a mean party and always has interesting recipes up his sleeve. Beer cheese sounds a little strange, I know, but it is incredibly tasty and a fabulous spread to serve with crudités, crackers and bread at a dinner party.

I love to serve a platter with a tasty spread or two, like hummous or guacomale, in place of canapes when I invite people over for dinner. It’s always a crowd pleaser and so easy to throw together. Beer cheese is a little unusual and has a wonderful kick to it, so it’s a favourite of mine to make as a nice alternative to more traditional spreads. Don’t worry if the idea of beer puts you off: I never drink beer, as I dislike the taste, but fortunately this cheese doesn’t taste like beer!

beercheese_3 beercheese_2 beercheese_4

This recipe makes a lot, so it’s great for a large party, or to give as hostess gifts in little mason jars, but you could easily half the recipe as well. If you happen to have any leftovers, then the spread is great to use in sandwiches!

Beer Cheese Recipe
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 12
A delicious, easy spread that's great to serve at large parties, or to make as hostess gifts.

  • 1 lb old, sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 lb Derby cheese, grated
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 8 ounces beer (lager)
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 2 chillies (deseeded and very finely chopped)
  1. Mix together the cheese and garlic and then add the Worcestershire sauce, salt, dry mustard and chilli and process or blend until very smooth (I use a food processor).
  2. Add enough beer to make a spreadable paste (add a little more if needed, bearing in mind that the spread thickens as it hardens so you may need to add more than you think). Continue processing until everything is mixed well.
  3. Spoon the mixture into a container and store in the fridge for several hours, or overnight, then bring to room temperature before serving.


What are your favourite spreads to serve at parties?

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Roasted Pear, Blue Cheese and Cherry Salad

Roasted Pear, Blue Cheese and Cherry Salad

Inspired by the all the pear and cherry blossom that has been delighting me for the past few weeks, I whipped up this delicious roasted pear, blue cheese and cherry salad the other day. Sunny weather always makes salads more appealing to me, and as this is a warm salad it is also fabulous even on a chilly Spring day.

Roasted Pear, Blue Cheese and Cherry Salad Roasted Pear, Blue Cheese and Cherry Salad

This salad makes a delicious lunch for three (perhaps served with some good, crusty bread), or is a great starter for 6. I’m always on the look out for salad recipes that are a bit more interesting than my habitual bag of lettuce with chopped cucumber, tomato and chicken breast. What are you favourite salad recipes / combinations? Please do let me know!

Roasted Pear, Blue Cheese and Cherry Salad
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 3 for lunch or 6 as a starter
This salad is delicious served either as a light lunch or starter.
  • 3 ripe but firm pears
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice (3 lemons)
  • 3 ounces coarsely crumbled sharp blue cheese such as Stilton
  • ¼ cup dried cherries
  • ¼ cup walnut halves, toasted and chopped
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 3 tablespoons port
  • ⅓ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • ¼ cup good olive oil
  • 6 ounces mixed salad leaves
  • Salt to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 190° C.
  2. Peel the pears and slice them lengthwise into halves. With a spoon (or melon baller if you have one), remove the core and seeds from each pear, leaving a round well for the filling.
  3. With a small sharp knife, trim a small slice away from the rounded sides of each pear half so that they will sit flat in the baking dish without wobbling. Toss the pears with some lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown. Arrange them, core side up, in a baking dish large enough to hold the pears snugly.
  4. Gently toss the crumbled blue cheese, dried cherries, and walnuts together in a small bowl. Divide the mixture among the pears, filling the scooped out hole in the pears.
  5. In the same small bowl, combine the white wine, port, and brown sugar, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour the mixture over and around the pears. Bake the pears, basting occasionally with the wine mixture, for 30 minutes, or until tender. Set aside until warm or at room temperature.
  6. Just before serving, whisk together the olive oil, ¼ cup of lemon juice, and ¼ cup of the basting liquid in a large bowl. Divide the salad among 6 plates and top each with a pear half. Drizzle each pear with some of the basting liquid, sprinkle with salt, and serve warm.


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Baby Kale, Smoked Chicken and Duck Salad

Baby Kale, Smoked Chicken and Duck Salad

When I was younger, I used to visit my Mum and Great Uncle in Dorset every Easter. We had a family tradition of going to the beautifully scenic countryside hotel and restaurant, Plumber Manor, for our Easter Sunday lunch. The menu was very traditional, and I ordered the same dish every year: smoked chicken and duck salad to start, followed by roast beef and ending with chocolate pudding. My favourite part of the meal was the starter; I loved the combination of smoked chicken and duck and it always felt such a decadent salad, entirely appropriate for a special lunch.

Having been given some coupons from Florette Salad to try their new baby kale, I decided to create my own smoked chicken and duck salad for Mother’s Day lunch on Sunday. I have to say, I was pretty pleased with the results! This salad is perfect for spring and is great to serve either as a light lunch, or as a starter.

Baby Kale, Smoked Chicken and Duck Salad (Serves 2 for lunch or 4 as a starter)


For the salad:
1 bag (60g) Florette Baby Kale salad
30g flaked almonds, lightly toasted
a medium bunch tarragon leaves, torn from stem
160g smoked chicken breast, cut into strips
80g smoked duck breast, cut into strips
6 radishes, finely sliced
1/2 teaspoon sumac
1/4 teaspoon Lebanese zaatar mix
salt and pepper to taste

For the dressing:
2 tablespoons half-fat creme fraiche
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 clove garlic, peeled and minced
salt, to taste

1/ Start by making the dressing: mix together all the ingredients until combined and season with salt to taste.

2/ Toast the almonds lightly in a frying pan and set to one side.

3/ Assemble the salad by tossing the baby kale with the almonds, tarragon, smoked chicken, smoked duck and radishes. Arrange on a platter, small plates or bowl.

4/ Drizzle on the dressing and scatter the sumac, zaatar mix, salt and pepper over the salad.

5/ Serve immediately with some crusty bread (a glass of rose is rather nice with this too!).

Baby Kale, Smoked Chicken and Duck Salad

I’ve used kale in plenty of recipes before, but I’d never tasted baby kale. I absolutely loved it! It’s got quite a peppery taste, so is similar to rocket, and it’s delicious in salads. I’m tempted to try out the summer salad recipes that Florette list on their website that suggest other ways to use this super food.

Have you ever had baby kale before? Do you have any favourite spring or summer salad recipes?

Disclosure: I was sent coupons for Florette’s baby kale, as well as Harry Eastwood’s cookbook, A Salad for All Seasons, in exchange for writing a recipe post. All opinions are of course my own. 

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Make Ahead Christmas Canapés

christmassnacks{Classic Sausage Rolls}

At this time of year, having some easy, make-ahead recipes for cocktail party canapés, or as snacks on standby for when people drop round, is essential to my peace of mind. It’s a great feeling to have the freezer filled up with treats I can whip out at a moment’s notice. Although it’s always fun to try out new recipes, I also always rely on a few classic staples. Last weekend, I made a batch of my favourite sausage rolls and parmesan shortbreads and stuck them in the freezer, ready to bring out to take along to Christmas parties, or for guests who drop by, and also to enjoy on Christmas Day itself. These recipes are an absolute doddle to make, but are guaranteed crowd pleasers so I hope you enjoy them too!

I only ever eat sausage rolls at Christmas time, much as I love them, so I look forward to my first one every year (more so even than mince pies!). This is my favourite recipe, which I’ve adapted from a Delia Smith classic my Mum used to make:

Sausage Rolls

1 roll of store bought puff pastry
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon of milk
500g good quality pork sausage meat
1 medium onion, grated
1 teaspoon sage

Pre-heat the oven to 220°C.

Mix the sausage meat, onion and sage together thoroughly in a mixing bowl (I find it’s easiest to do this with my hands, if a little messy!). On a floured surface, lay out the store bought pastry and roll it out to form an oblong (as thin as you can). Cut the pastry oblong into three strips, then divide the sausage meat mixture into three as well. Make three long rolls, the same length as the pastry from the sausage meat.

Place one roll of sausage meat onto one strip of pastry. Brush the beaten egg mixture along one edge, then fold the pastry over and seal it as carefully as possible. Lift the whole thing up and turn it, so that when you put it down the sealed edge is underneath. Press lightly, then cut into individual rolls about 2 inches long. Snip three v-shapes in the top of each roll using scissors, and brush with the beaten egg. Then repeat all this with the other portions of pastry and meat.

Place all the rolls on a baking sheet and bake high in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Store the cooled sausage rolls in a tin, and warm them slightly in foil before serving. Alternatively, before baking, you can freeze the sausage rolls, cooking them through when needed later. You can also freeze the rolls after baking: simply let them thaw and heat them through in the oven as needed.

christmassnacks3{Parmesan shortbreads}

These parmesan shortbreads are mouthwateringly good and dangerously moreish! I love bringing them as a gift alongside a bottle of wine to a friend’s party. I follow Nigella’s recipe for them; the only alteration I make is to scatter fennel seeds over some of the shortbreads just before baking them. I love the slight crunch and additional flavour it gives to the biscuits, but this step is entirely optional, and the shortbreads are equally delicious plain. It’s a good idea to make a double batch of this recipe and store some of the pastry rolls in the freezer before baking, so they’re ready to cook quickly as you need them.

Do you have any favourite, quick and easy canapés that are perfect for Christmas?

Pick Me Up Quick Breakfast Bars Recipe


This breakfast bars recipe is a real life saver for me! I’m someone who needs to eat very regularly, otherwise I feel terrible and get very bad tempered! When I’m teaching, the day can be so rushed that I barely get a mouthful to eat at lunch, let alone a bite in between. In order to stop myself from feeling like I’m going to pass out on the bus on the way home, I’ve taken to always having a stash of these breakfast bars on me. One of these satisfies any hunger pangs and leaves me feeling human again!

I adapted the recipe from Nigella’s breakfast bars here.

Pick Me Up Quick Breakfast Bars

1 x 397 grams can condensed milk
250 grams rolled oats (not instant)
75 grams shredded coconut
100 grams dried cranberries
25 grams pumpkin seeds
75 grams raisins
50 grams chocolate chips
100 grams natural unsalted cashew nuts

Preheat the oven to 130°C/gas mark ½/250ºF, and oil a 23 x 33 x 4cm / 9 x 13 inch baking tin, or use a throwaway foil one.Warm the condensed milk in a large pan.

Meanwhile, mix together all the other ingredients and then add the warmed condensed milk, using a rubber or wooden spatula to fold and distribute.

Spread the mixture into the tin and press down with the spatula or the back of a spoon, to even the surface.

Bake for 1 hour, then remove from the oven and, after about 15 minutes, cut into four across, and four down to make 16 chunky bars. Let cool completely. I wrap some up individually in clingfilm to store in the freezer, and the rest I keep in a tin in the fridge to last a few days. 

These bars really are great for when you want a snack on the go, or they’re lovely with a cup of tea and a sit down as a mid-morning break. Enjoy!

Carrot, Cheese and Olive Bread Recipe


This carrot, cheese and olive bread recipe is adapted from a recipe in Jack Monroe’s latest cookbook, A Year in 120 Recipes. I’ve followed her blog, A Girl Called Jack, for a few years and love both her cookbooks. I so appreciate Jack’s attitude towards frugal cooking and her laid back recipes that embrace using up whatever you’ve got left in your fridge, rather than sending you on an exhausting hunt through supermarkets, desperate to track down obscure ingredients.

Jack’s recipe uses squash, but I had some carrots that needed using up so I made the bread with those instead. If you’ve got any leftover pumpkin, I think it would be great to use in this bread too! I was thrilled with how it turned out, especially considering how easy it is to throw together (no kneading! no proving! you don’t even need a tin!). If you’re aiming to impress, I’d recommend making this loaf. For one thing, the combination of bread, olives and cheese baking makes the whole house smell INCREDIBLE, and it’s so easy to make it will leave you completely unruffled, looking like the next Nigella (well, one can but hope). And who doesn’t love a slice of bread still warm from the stove? I like to serve this with some good quality olive oil as a delicious pre-supper snack.

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bread7 bread3 bread4 bread1

Olive, Cheese and Carrot Bread Recipe:

You will need:

2-3 medium sized carrots
50g cheddar cheese (or another hard, strong cheese),plus a little extra for scattering
4 tablespoons black olives, plus a few extra
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
300g self-raising flour, plus a little extra for dusting
a pinch of salt
a splash of milk

Preheat the oven to 190° C (170°C fan; 375° F) and line a baking tray with parchment paper. Peel and grate the carrots. Grate the cheese and slice the olives. Pick the leaves off a fistful of rosemary and chop finely, making sure you have enough to fill 1 tablespoon. Pour the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and add the carrots, cheese, olives and the rosemary. Mix briefly to combine the ingredients.

Make a well in the centre of the mixture and crack in the eggs. Add a splash of milk and mix to form a large ball of dough. If it’s too dry, add a little more milk, and if it’s too sticky, add some more flour. I found it a little dry at first and had to add more milk. Use your judgement as to the feel: the dough should be slightly sticky, but not impossible to get off your fingers.

Shape the dough into a loaf and place it on the lined baking tray. Dust it with a little flour, scatter some more grated cheddar on top, make a cut down the middle with a sharp knife and dot around with olives. Bake in the centre of the oven for 45 minutes, or until it feels fairly light and is hollow sounding when you tap the bottom.

I always so enjoy making my own bread – it feels so satisfying! Do you have any bread recipes that are particular favourites?