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How to make your guests feel special!

08/10/2019

Autumn and harvest is here!  That means we can enjoy the delight of blackberry and apple pie. Made with freshly picked ingredients from the exceptionally fruitful bramble bushes which have been in abundance this year in our hedgerows and gardens, and the familiar tradition to add these to our ripe Bramley apples from yours or your neighbour’s trees, (there seem to have been far more apples on offer this year, perhaps the rain has helped?), then add cinnamon, to make that perfect Sunday pudding to share with friends and family. There’s nothing better to give that warm and contented feel, which should create a smile and sense of healthy well-being from a homemade meal. But how do you try and replicate that feeling for 300 guests?

Bramleys are not just for the crumbles and pies. As we are always in a hurry, why not cook the apples and create an apple sauce that can be frozen? It is a great way to savour the flavour by freezing in ice cube trays and share throughout the winter months with a cheeseboard, in a chutney or with your morning porridge which will guarantee to add that extra zing to the day.  How do you create that sensation for 300 guests that will give them the zing to their day?

We are so lucky in the UK with our seasons. Autumn delivers the fruits including grapes, quince, rhubarb and cranberries, and vegetables including beetroot, cabbage and squashes. There is so much produce to enjoy and be creative with.  Our farmers’ markets produce such an amazing array of vegetables and what are featuring currently are the squashes.  I always wonder, what should we do with pumpkins? They are such an odd looking fruit!  A dilemma, this time every year, is what do we do with the carved pumpkins decorating our houses, inside and out, after they have invited the local children to trick or treat?   Do not throw them away! They are so amazing and make the perfect soups, cakes or curries.   Here is a good recipe to use for entertaining which offers something that is a little bit unusual and special for impressing your guests.

You cannot go wrong with a pumpkin soup!

Ingredients:

1 tbsp. olive oil

2 onions, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

800g chopped pumpkin flesh plus the seeds

100g split red lentil

½ small pack of thyme

1 litre of vegetable stock

a pinch of salt and sugar

50g crème fraîche, plus extra to serve

Pumpkins are the most famous of all the winter squashes and are mostly associated with Halloween.

  1. Heat the oil in a large pan. Fry the onions until softened and starting to turn golden. Stir in the garlic, pumpkin flesh, lentils and thyme, and then pour in the hot stock. Season, cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes until the lentils and vegetables are tender.
  2. Meanwhile, wash the pumpkin seeds. Remove any flesh still clinging to them, and then dry them with kitchen paper. Heat the 1 tsp oil in a non-stick pan and fry the seeds until they start to jump and pop. Stir frequently, but cover the pan in between to keep them in it. When the seeds look nutty and toasted, add a sprinkling of salt and a pinch of sugar, and stir well.
  3. Whizz the cooked pumpkin mixture with a hand blender or in a food processor until smooth, then add the crème fraîche and whizz again. Taste for seasoning.
  4. Serve with a spoonful of crème fraîche, a few thyme leaves and the toasted seeds scattered on top.

Nutmeg to me is the smell of autumn and winter!

What puts that special something into the lunch and dinners we are serving throughout the autumn?  Nutmeg is that ingredient to add to really ensure our guests enjoy and remember what a fabulous experience they have just had!  Combining ginger with nutmeg is amazing and helps to warm the cold nights when added to all sorts of winter dishes, as they add that long-lingering flavour that will be remembered.  The meal is organised but how do you decide on the suitable beverage to be shared with scrumptious recipes?  Red or white wine?

It is not just adding the seasonal vegetables that are important in creating the colourful dishes.  How do you choose the wines to complement the meal? There is so much choice and not being an expert, where do you start?  Buying the most expensive wines does not always guarantee the best choice so I rely on the experts. I always ask my local shops on their thoughts and you would be amazed what the conversations lead too from the butchers, bakers, greengrocers and fishmongers.  If I had a wine cellar, that would hold some stories!

Mocktails are on-trend and with the nights drawing-in and safe driving being vital, they are a fabulous way to feel part of the fun, without experiencing the hangovers!  Spiced piña colada mocktail is my favourite and I always love the chance to add extra cinnamon. Cinnamon has been a major component of alternative medicine for thousands of years.  The bark of cinnamon contains a number of oils that provide the body with many benefits.  It is also rich in nutrients, so add it to both your latte and porridge, and savour this delicious spice in more of your meals which will do yourself some good at the same time.

The atmosphere and the cold breath feeling as you say hello when coming in from the outside, warm open fires are welcoming and the smell of home cooking always brings a sense of happiness, calm and well-being.  I think the Danish have it down to an art with hygge. Hygge is a Danish and Norwegian word for a mood of cosiness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment. (The emphasis on hygge as a part of Danish culture is a recent phenomenon, dating to the late 20th century).  It’s vital to set the atmosphere for your event. Even with a large gathering, the warm Glühwein welcome, lighting and warmth, with the smell of spices, enable all to share a sense of contented togetherness!

When organising your event always keep in mind the sporting fixtures as there is nothing more annoying than someone monitoring their phone at a table. Be prepared and set the room up with access to results, so guests know where to vanish to when in need of an update on scores!

What will make your guests smile and feel special? It is the thoughtful unexpected little things and consideration of their senses; sight, touch, taste, smell and sound, that contribute to creating special memories and enjoying well-crafted menus that delight all tastes and senses. It will certainly encourage guests to linger longer and enjoy!