Ciao Gusto

Ciao GustoWhen Ciao Gusto got in touch and suggested I try their range, I had so many ideas about what I could make as I love Italian food and often cook it at home.  In the end though I found my inspiration in Venice and used that lovely city as my muse. My first visit to the city was during my university days when I was taking some art history courses (initially inspired by the fact that those courses involved some overseas trips, but soon I loved the art for itself). I studied Venetian Art and Architecture during the Renaissance and we visited some stunning buildings and wonderful art galleries, as well as some spectacular churches. Venice isn’t just a feast for the eyes though, it’s got a lot to offer the foodie. I can remember gifts of balsamic vinegar for the ladies at a restaurant we ate at quite a few times and Venice is where I discovered the Bellini cocktail.

Venice So inspired by Venice I decided to create a special brunch. I wanted to keep it simple, but still bring in genuine ingredients and showcase those distinctive Italian flavours.  I picked out a really good Parmareggio Reggiano cheese and grated a little to sprinkle on my toast, before finishing under the grill.  Meanwhile I soft-boiled some eggs, to create an Italian twist on the old favourite eggs and soldiers.

Next up was a very special drink: Bellinis.  This refreshing cocktail is made from peaches and prosecco wine.  As it’s a wine based cocktail, it doesn’t pack too much of an alcoholic punch, so it’s more suited for an early drink and to my mind, it’s a lot nicer than Bucks Fizz.

bellinis and boiled eggsCiao Gusto is a family of famous Italian food and drinks brands, working together to tell their stories and to spread the love of Italian food and culture around the world. Every member of Ciao Gusto is acclaimed, a brand leader in Italy. Large or small, they all share a common heritage and devotion to quality. That’s why they’ve come together, sharing knowledge, passion, and their favourite Italian recipes. You can discover Ciao Gusto now at Ocado in their Italian Shop in Shop there’s a wonderful selection of products with many famous names and some new favourites.

Setting The Christmas Table

Arthur PriceChristmas is often the time when we spend the most time, money and effort on dressing our house and our table; preparing food; and serving drinks.  So I was very interested to be invited to attend an event sponsored by Arthur Price, the cutlery people which focused on the getting ready for the festive season.

Wolverhampton Grand TheatreI’d never been to Wolverhampton Grand, where the event was hosted, before.  Growing up in Birmingham we tended to go to the theatre there and it was easier transport wise. I hadn’t realised what a lovely building Wolverhampton Grand was and I was very impressed by Arthur’s Bar, which is sponsored by Arthur Price. Designed in an art deco style, it is the perfect pre-theatre location to entertain family, friends and clients.  It is good to know that you can enjoy the red carpet experience with your personal waiter in one of their private booths to enhance your special evening.

cocktails and a shakerTo start with we looked at cocktails, after all it’s traditional to offer guests a drink before dinner. We had a skilled mixologist take us through the stages of making these two lovely seasonal cocktails.

private chef demonstrationNext we took a look at cooking for the big day.  Christmas dinner can be a logistical nightmare, so it was good to see some ideas of how to prepare parts in advance and minimise the stress. In 20 minutes, Simon our chef managed to whisk up the starter: a Salmon and Cucumber Gateau, the main: Pan-Fried Turkey Escalope with Cranberries and the dessert: Orange and Mascarpone Snowball.  I was particularly taken by the spectacular dessert which was so easy to put together, but looked fantastic and tasted delicious.

easy to make dessertFestive cakes were next on the agenda.  I tend to be put off making a Christmas cake by the icing side of things, but having picked up a few tips, I might actually have a go next year.

christmas cake

Next we moved onto dressing the Christmas table.  I really liked the idea of putting baubles into a glass as an easy way of creating a bespoke decoration.  The Christmas tree napkins were another nice touch.

decorating the christmas tableLaying the table is the finishing touch to add to the Christmas feast and as well as being a practical thing, it should look beautiful too.  I know from experience that it’s very easy to make a table look good using Arthur Price cutlery as we have been using ours daily for the last 12 years and it still looks like new.

table set for christmas


Curing A Christmas Feast From River Cottage

river cottage hq and veg gardenCuring a ham is a Christmas tradition for many and last year we gave it a try for the first time. So it was very useful to go along to River Cottage last week to find out more about curing meat.  To be honest I’d only ever thought about curing a ham, but in actual fact you can cure any sort of meat and it was a bit of an eye opener to be trying out a range of cured meats. In particular, we had a demonstration of brining, which is an easy way to preserve not just meat, but fish, cheese and even vegetables. The curing process, using salt and water as the main ingredients, is totally natural one that has been used down the centuries and does not need to involve any E numbers or other nasties.

Bresaola slicesSo how do you brine your own ham?

I’ve put together a quick and simple guide for you from what I learnt listening to the talk and demonstration at River Cottage.

What joints of meat should I buy to brine my own ham? 

A leg of pork is traditional, but might be a bit big.  Consider a boned-out leg or half a large leg.

How long does the brining process take?

The pork has to be left for 3 days in the brine for every kilo of meat. Then you will need to cook it.

Table arrangementWhat should I brine my ham in? Where do I need to keep it?

Use either a large earthenware pot or a plastic bucket(or other plastic container).  Keep away from aluminium pots.  Brine it in a cold room.  We brined ours in our unheated conservatory, but a garage or pantry might fit the bill too.

How much salt and water do I need to use?

To brine pork you need 20% of salt per litre of liquid, so for every litre of liquid, you need 200g of salt. You need enough water to cover your ham.  You might need to weigh it down to keep it under the liquid at all times. It doesn’t need to be water though as it can be another liquid (see the next question and answer).

How can I add flavour?

You can pick our almost anything to add.  Think about using alcohol such as a beer, a wine or opt for cider or apple juice (as apple is a lovely complement to pork).  You can use the alcohol as a substitute for some of your water. Add a little caramel flavour with either some dark sugar or some treacle. Don’t forget herbs and spices: rosemary and bay leaves maybe or black pepper and chillies for a little heat.The flavours will be quite subtle in the finished ham.

brined chickenHow does brining work?

Salt opens up the cells of the meat and draws moisture out. It’s been used as a preservative over the centuries because salt kills bacteria and inhibits its growth.

How long will the ham keep after brining?

Pat dry the ham after curing it and keep it uncovered in the fridge.  You have a week or two to get round to cooking it.

How should I cook the ham?

Boil it in fresh water. After a few minutes, taste the water and if it is very salty, discard it and replace it with fresh water.  You can do this several times if needs be.

river cottage cider brined ham savoy cabbageHow long does the ham need to cook?

From 2-5 hours on a gentle simmer depending on how big your ham is.

Can you only brine pork?

No, we tried a range of cured meats at River Cottage including beef, venison and chicken.  Beef and venison can be cured in a similar way to pork, but chicken and turkey need less salt because they contain less fat.  The chicken was particularly delicious, with a delicate flavour that complemented the meat.  Brining a chicken is fairly easy as less water and salt are required and you don’t need such a big container, so I’m very tempted to try that at home.

Of course, we had to taste some of these delicious cured meats.  During the demonstration we sampled the bresaola and the cured chicken.  For the main course of our meal we were served River Cottage Cider Cured Ham, Carrot Puree, Fried Savoy Cabbage and Braised Beans.

taking pictures river cottageThis was my second visit to River Cottage. It’s a really special place and the food is truly amazing.  I’m planning a return trip soon for a cookery course.

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