Monthly Archives: September 2012

Dinner Parties Without the Drama

If you watch the popular BBC America series Come Dine With Me, you’d be forgiven for thinking that hosting a dinner party for some close friends is one big drama from start to finish with argumentative guests, deflating soufflés and the fussy vegan guest who refuses to eat anything you put on their plate. Cooking for friends can be great fun and also completely stress-free, as long as you do some preparation and get organized before the guests start to arrive.


Of course the main focus of any dinner party is the food, but an evening when you are having friends over is not the time to be experimenting with a dish you have never made before or which your cook books rate as for experts only. Try to prepare as much as you can before your guests arrive; a cold appetizer such as a shrimp cocktail or salad can be made in the afternoon and popped in the fridge, and a cold dessert can be made the night before. Have all your vegetables chopped and ready to go, and prepare as much of the main course as you can in advance so that all you have to do when guests arrive is to put the food in the oven and sit down to enjoy your starter. Tried and tested recipes are the best so that you can cook with confidence.


Many guests will bring wine as a present, but always have a couple of bottles of white chilling in the fridge and some red open and ready so that you can offer people a drink as soon as they arrive. Ask one of the other guests to help you by keeping glasses topped up while you are in the kitchen, or with a group of close friends, ask them to help themselves. Try not to have too much to drink before serving the food as a tipsy host leaves things to burn on the stove or drops servings on the floor more often than a sober one.


It’s not necessary to completely revamp your kitchen and dining area when you are having friends over to eat, but it is worth investing in a plain white tablecloth which can be accessorized with table runners, funky colored napkins, candles and even confetti to create a party feel. Make sure you check all of the light bulbs in your black retro kitchen lights so that people are not

Pan seared Shrimp
Pan-Seared Shrimp-just heat and serve.

eating in the dark, and for a more formal dinner, print off menus and name cards to put by the place settings. If you don’t have enough matching tableware or glassware for all of your guests, several rental outlets and party stores will rent glasses for a small charge. Consider buying some new black retro kitchen lights if your lighting is not up to scratch, and always ensure the kitchen and dining area are scrupulously clean before inviting guests  for something to eat and drink.

The Contemporary Home offer a fantastic range of black retro kitchen lights – just the thing to create a great atmosphere for your dinner party.

And remember, if cooking is too stressful, can help out with already cooked delicious meals! Keep your dinner party simple and easy with prepared meals.


Grilling a Great Steak: How to Do It Like a Pro

Does the idea of a juicy steak, grilled to glistening, sizzling perfection make your mouth water?  Luckily for you, you can achieve professional results at home, without a whole lot of effort.  Following, you’ll find tips for grilling the perfect steak – no matter how you like it.

Cut Matters

While it’s true that just about anything cooked in the great outdoors with the help of a barbecue grill seems to taste a whole lot better than most foods prepared indoors, steak is one of those things that really is better when prepared over open flames.  To get outstanding results, though, it’s best if you select the best possible cut of meat.  Supermarkets often do what they can to help you make a good choice, often marking steaks best suited to grilling with stickers proclaiming their wares to be “Great on the Grill!”  or “Perfect for Barbecue.”  Some steaks to try grilling if you’re new to the game include:

  • T-Bone
  • Rib Eye
  • Flank Steak
  • New York Strip (aka Delmonico)
  • Filet Mignon

When selecting one of these steaks, look for cuts that have fine streaks of fat running throughout the muscle fibers.  This fat essentially bastes your meat from the inside out, carrying the flavors of the spices or marinades you have selected throughout the steak.  If you want to use lean cuts of beef, steaks such as eye of round, top round, sirloin tip, and top sirloin will do the trick; these usually turn out best if they’re marinated for at least a few hours prior to being grilled.  The acids in the marinade help soften tough muscle fibers, making the meat easier to chew.

Marinating Makes a Difference

Some die-hard steak aficionados grill their steaks with a little bit of salt and pepper, and nothing else.  Most people, though, appreciate the extra flavor marinades offer.  You can either choose a commercially prepared marinade, or you can easily make a simple marinade of your own.  A great one to try:

Blend 1/2 cup of soy sauce, 2 Tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, 2 Teaspoons of catsup, and one teaspoon each of minced garlic, crumbled oregano, and black pepper together.  Place your steaks in a dish with high sides (a baking pan works well) then pour the marinade on top.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about three hours, turning the steaks over frequently as they are marinating.

Grilling to Perfection

If you’re brand new to grilling, you might feel tempted to rush things and get your steaks onto the grill as soon as the flames are jumping.  While you can do this if you’re using a gas grill, then drop the heat once the steaks have been seared, you want to wait until the flames have gone out and you have red hot coals if you’re using a charcoal grill.  The waiting may seem painful, but the rewards are definitely well worth the wait.

Be sure to follow a guide that helps you determine whether your steaks will be ready or not.  Thickness and desired doneness are two important factors to consider, as is the steak’s interior temperature.  Keep in mind that a thin steak done rare needs to cook only for about two minutes on each side; a two inch thick steak cooked to well done will need to be grilled for about 13 minutes on the first side and 11 minutes on the second side.  A barbecue fork with a doneness meter on it, or even a simple meat thermometer can help you determine how well done your meat is; in general, you’ll need to follow the following interior temperature guide:

  • Rare – 120-130 degrees
  • Medium Rare – 130-140 degrees
  • Medium – 140-150 degrees
  • Medium Well – 150-160 degrees
  • Well Done – 160-170 degrees

In the absence of a thermometer, you can cut the steak open to see whether it looks right or not; watch carefully to be sure you don’t overcook it if you have no way to gauge the temperature.

Let it Rest

Finally, let your steak rest for about five minutes before sitting down to enjoy it.  Tempting as it may be to dig right in, the flavor and texture will improve over those last few minutes you spend waiting.  Didn’t get it right the first time?  As with all things, practice makes perfect.  Keep on grilling, and you’ll discover your steaks come out better and better each time.

Debbie Phillips provides great cooking tips for all at Visit for more information on turkey fryers, outdoor woks and other cooking accessories.

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We rarely do a blog touting our own meals, but I felt it was time. Our meals are great, after all!  We’ve had some changes to the menu over the years, as the owners and chefs work out more recipes and refine the menu. And of course we’ve added our MK Special menu for those with special dietary needs. So here is a list of yummy-looking pictures and descriptions of our meals.

This grande burrito is the perfect combination of shrimp, sautéed veggies and light spices wrapped up in a flour tortilla

Fresh linguini smothered in a light marina and loaded with baby clams.

Our chefs sear roasted red potatoes in olive oil with rosemary to make a star side that will complement any main course.

Cheesecake at its very best! East coast style and west coast light. Get ready for your best cheesecake experience yet.

Delicious, rich, tender pot roast and lots of gravy.

Prawn perfection – buttery, rich, and flavor galore!

Our delicious corned beef brisket is coated with just the right amount of coriander, mustard seed, ginger, bay leaves and cloves to provide old-fashioned goodness.

Chilled Italian custard topped with a raspberry glaze – brought over directly from Italy.

Classic Italian Osso Buco Cooked just right. Lots of vegetables in a yummy sauce over tender, tender veal.

Lamb Shank beautifully prepared by our chefs.

So crammed with crab they are truly the best Crab Cakes ever.

Deliciously tender chicken breast with garlic butter and Duxelles presented in a light puff pastry case.

Succulent chicken breasts are smothered in a rich mushroom wine sauce.

Sliced new carrots in a healthy broth/butter sauce. Sweet, crisp and tender.

Coming soon! Tender boneless short ribs in a BBQ honey sauce.

5 All Natural & Dental-Friendly Sweeteners You’ll Love

If there’s a hate/love relationship we all as human beings share, it’s our relationship with sugar.

Think about it. Sugar is sweet; it tastes good and makes other things taste good. It gives dessert its taste and ultimately appears in so much of our food that we don’t know what we’d do without it.

On the other hand, sugar does a number of bad things to our bodies. It creates an insulin response. Overconsumption of it can eventually lead to metabolic problems like diabetes. It may even lead to high blood pressure and heart disease. And when you consider what sugar does to our teeth, well, you’ll probably start realizing just how bad sugar can be.

The problem is, many of us with this hate/love relationship still love the sweet taste of sugar more than we hate the consequences of overconsumption. So how do we, so to speak, have our cake and eat it, too? Simple: dental-friendly sweeteners that won’t do to your body what sugar does.

1. Xylitol. Admittedly, it has a funny name; it reads more like something that would make your whipped cream more bitter than it would sweet. But Xylitol is surprisingly healthy, especially if you’re someone who needs to be on a low-sugar or low-carbohydrate diet. Xylitol is a natural sweetener found in birch trees that has a chemical structure that keeps it protected from the bacteria in your oral cavity. In other words, it doesn’t rot your teeth like sugar, even if it makes foods sweeter. Sound like a good deal? Good, because now you know about Xylitol and there’s no excuse no to check it out further.

2. Erythritol. Another sugar substitute discovered by people who need to avoid sugar in its natural state, Erythritol is a sweetener that is added to items like power bars, candy bars, desserts, and sauces in order to make them taste sweet. It is a sugar alcohol, like Xylitol, which is something you may want to consider if you’re avoiding sugar alcohols, but ultimately Erythritol does not have the same effects on your teeth that eating sugar does. Your dentist might wonder if you gave up desserts altogether, but you’ll know the truth.

3. Isomalt. Speaking of sugar alcohols, here’s another one that is derived from sugar but is only half as sweet as the source. In other words, with Isomalt you get half the sweetness of sucrose but a major reduction in the types of tooth problems. One thing to consider with Isomalt is that bacteria can adapt to its use, so it’s best to use this in moderation.

4. Stevia. A sweet plant, Stevia is far sweeter than sugar and only needs to be used in slight amounts – it’s often packaged along with dextrose in order to give it the same consistency as a food additive as, say, Splenda. Stevia is great because it may even help your teeth as opposed to rotting them; some studies suggest it may help hinder the growing of plaque.

5. Sucralose. How can we forget about one of the most famous sugar alcohols? Many dentists recommend switching to Sucralose as a valid alternative to sugar; its taste has made it popular across the country.

Chris Turberville-Tully is a marketing strategist for Dental Implants Clinic, a group of UK dentists dedicated to keeping your smile healthy, bright and beautiful. To learn more, click here.


8 Tips on How to Throw an Anniversary Party for Your Parents

So, it’s your parents’ 25th wedding anniversary, and they’ve talked about it, and decided to do… nothing.

The anticipated stress of having to plan a get together or the awkwardness of having to sit through minstrels massacring Mozart at a “romantic” restaurant is just too much.  So they’ve chosen the TV instead?

When they look back at this great mark of achievement in their marriage, they will remember… what? Watching The Big Bang Theory in their PJs?

It’s time for us to take matters into our own hands.

Organizing an amazing anniversary party doesn’t have to be an anxiety-filled, time-consuming and money-draining experience – in fact, if you keep a few key things in mind, it can be pretty simple.

Here are eight tips on how to make sure everything goes to plan.

1.       Venue

Hiring a venue can be appealing, but it’s a drain on the wallet as it has to be done months in advance to secure your place of choice. There are often a lot of restrictions on time, noise and decorations.

I would recommend choosing to hold the party at either at your parents, your home, or one of your siblings’ homes – basically whoever has the roomiest house (or garden). It’s free, and you can more or less plan what you want!

 2.       Guest list

Consider how large your parents would want the party to be.

Would they want an intimate get together with just close friends and immediate family? Or would they prefer a gathering of all their family and friends to celebrate that great day?

3.       Theme







Image by: alisdair

Whilst I wouldn’t suggest a full-blown Gone With The Wind themed extravaganza, you need to decide what the focus will be for the party. If it’s the height of summer, consider having a barbecue, and if you have a pool, suggest littler ones bring their bathing suits.

If it’s winter, think about a relaxed evening soiree. Think about whether there’ll be dancing, and whether you want to hire a band or another musical performer.

 4.       Invitations

Make sure you send out invitations at least six to eight weeks in advance, and forget about doing them over Facebook or via email. Handwritten invitations on nice paper are an elegant and money-saving option, though if you’re strapped for time, stylish invitations can be designed on the computer and printed on card in bulk.

 5.       Decorations

As a general rule, don’t worry too much about decorations – as long as the house and garden are tidy, then you shouldn’t need too much else. Keep it simple with fresh cut flowers and fairy lights draped through trees, or from the ceiling.

 6.       Food



Image by: cfccreates

If you’ve invited more than eight guests, forget about cooking a full-blown 3 course meal – it will require a huge amount of skill and effort on your part, and can be difficult to get right. Instead, think buffet. If it’s summer, have a BBQ with salads that you can prepare well in advance, or buy ready-prepared meals. If you’re indoors, just lay the dining table with finger foods such as mini pizzas, and let everyone help themselves!

7.       Gifts

Don’t forget to prompt close family to bring presents – and remember those traditions: 15th is crystal, 20th china, 25th silver, 30th pearl, 40th ruby, 50th gold, 60th diamond. Great (not terribly expensive) anniversary gift ideas for the both of them could be a photo album, picture frame or an engraved plaque.

 8.       Execution

As long as your motto has been preparation, preparation, preparation, then the execution of the party should be fuss free. Just make sure you start making food, tidying and decorating in plenty of time, and make your parents the centre of attention, and it should all go off without a hitch!

Elise Lévêque is a lively freelance writer, always finding an excuse to throw an awesome party for her family and friends! She blogs for Goodheart Gifts ,where she finds lovely gift ideas for her beloved ones.