Thursday, April 19, 2007

No hamper required!

When Stephanie suggested a picnic theme for her monthly blog party my first thought was this was an excellent excuse to get the hamper out. And I need little excuse, I can assure you! I've been inordinately partial to a wicker hamper since I was a little girl. I remember having a tiny hamper and various toy crockery items (possibly where another obsession started!) that I would place inside before having some sort of pretend meal. I was also extremely intrigued by miniature food - especially Hovis. Hovis is a brown loaf that comes in the usual loaf size (which never particularly interested me) but you could sometimes get tiny loaves, well rolls really, but fashioned to look like petite loaves (and these I really liked). I guess you were to split them in half and treat like a normal roll but I was particularly keen on slicing this loaf ever so carefully and buttering each minute slice before topping it with something like Dairylea cheese triangles. And to ensure that I'd get the requisite amount of Dairylea on each slice I'd make a tiny hole in the foil triangle and squeeze the cheese out like a dinky icing bag. I guess all that explains so much now. Whatever it all means I've been left with a deep love of hampers both wicker hampers with red and white chequered cloths and picnic goodies and boxes or baskets filled with all manner of intriguing jars, packets and bottles. I adore Harvey Nichols' hampers and always pour over the new catalogue each year. One year I even treated myself to one.

When I decided to upgrade to a fabulous wicker picnic hamper from Harrod's, I made a wish list and no doubt checked it twice. I knew that I wanted a tan leather interior with elegant white china plates (definitely not plastic!) and one with a full lid that is fastened with leather straps. I found one with the perfect interior but shock horror; it had yellow and blue plates – very IKEA but not me! Fortunately Harrod’s has a myriad of china so I rounded up all the likely candidates and checked they fitted in the leather straps inside the lid – vital! The winner was Wedgewood “Strawberry & Vine” which has pleasing strawberries, leaves and flowers in relief around the rim, and just screams some sort of al fresco sat on grass food eating activity – perfect! Over the years I’ve gathered a big red and white chequered tablecloth to lay on the grass, red napkins, spikes to sink into the soft ground and hold the wine glasses, lanterns on long crooks, waterproof backed fleecy blankets and a variety of picnic chairs. Basically should a picnic style event arise, I’m ready!

So with all that in mind I had no problem deciding how to serve my picnic canapés but what to make, that was harder. Really I'd just need a fabulous loaf of bread - we had the stunning Jamie Oliver baked with Parma ham, hard boiled eggs and mozzerella at our last picnic, some perfectly ripe Brie, a variety of pâtés, potato salad (entirely mayonnaise free), bunches of grapes, a savoury tart perhaps and strawberries. But for a canapés-at-home sort of picnic I had to think a little harder. I started off with M&S tuna pâté as most picnics can be enhanced by a generous knife-ful of this spread on a soft white roll. But how do I shrink it down, what about serving tuna pâté on a slice of crunchy cucumber? It goes excellently with cucumber and this would be a two bite nibble that would be easy to hold. Scotch eggs always used to be a picnic favourite, there are tiny ones but these are scarily filled with mayonnaise and that’s just wrong! Instead of maybe making my own with quail eggs, I got a full sized one and cut it into wedges and frankly they look better for it. One of the best things about serving picnic canapés and not actually preparing this food for a picnic is that I can served things hot. I have been known to remove a tasty leek tart from the oven and ask someone to carry it carefully to one of the open air concerts with the steam rising as they walked. But generally it’s not very practical. And barbecues are absolutely prohibited in my local park.

Another crucial picnic element is smoked salmon, we had mini smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels last time so this time I made salmon, cucumber and chived cream cheese spirals by spreading the salmon with the cream cheese with a liberal sprinkling of chives, layered with long strips of cucumber pared with a peeler and then rolling up. They looked very pretty but were going to be messy to consume so I got the idea of securing the spirals with my as yet un-christened art deco penguin cocktail sticks (as D had already said with them being penguins, I should only really use them in conjunction with fish!). I’m fairly sure that Penguins are partial to krill and squid, I’m not so sure about salmon though. Anyway the cocktail sticks looked great and were an ideal delicate way to eat the spirals

And as I could serve hot canapés I decided to serve just baked from the oven dough balls split and filled with hot crab gratin. Another fine couple of bites!

I decided as I’d been thinking about strawberry jam sandwiches recently I’d try and miniaturise this old favourite but I couldn’t have anticipated how much mess you can make with a few rounds of bread and jam. It was the cutting of the finished sandwich into smaller squares where it all went wrong. Obviously I should have cut the bread first, I should have learnt from my old Hovis slicing days, and then made the sandwiches. But it was too late. The best I can do is deploy another new set of cocktail sticks and impale each jammy cube to eat, this time the cocktail sticks are topped with shiny red cherries.

For the final sweet treat I turned tochocolate brownies, topped with a Chambord soaked raspberry, which is always a good thing on any occasion. And the obligatory drink/cocktail? Well it’s a picnic so it’s either a refreshing glass of rose or the quintessential English summer drink – PIMM’S and lemonade. And of course served as it should - with plenty of ice, fruit and cucumber.
A perfect picnic!

To check out all the other treats laid on the red and white tablecloth and lighting the citronella candles to keep the insects away, click here...


Ian said...

Wow. The food all sounds delicious, and the presentation is unbelievable! And I LOVE scotch eggs. Please invite me on your next picnic! lol :-{>

Becki said...

Jam Sandwiches are definitely an old school classic that needs to return! Perfect picnic food and i love the way there displayed.