May: Lunch Among the Hydrangeas

May:  Lunch Among the Hydrangeas


Lunch Among the Hydrangeas

Fresh Fig, Prosciutto, and Arugula Salad with Parmesan Shavings

Suggested wine:  Mormoraia Vernaccia di San Gimignano

Poached Salmon with Tarragon Sauce and Fingerling Potatoes

Suggested wine:  Qupé Bien Nacido Reserve Chardonnay

Berry Tart with Mascarpone Cream

Serves 6


This menu is from “The Best of Gourmet: 1999.”  What attracted me to this menu was few and easy looking components.  But, as the day approached when everyone came over for the meal, I started to worry that this menu would not make my guests full–it just looked too light.  I guess I always worry that there won’t be enough food, but rest assured with this menu, you and your guests will leave the table satisfied.

I served this menu for Mother’s Day which just happens to be when my hydrangea plant starts to be in full bloom.  One hydrangea plant provides ample amount of blooms, so I was able to have a few bouquets around my home and on the table full of the flowers.  My Mother loves flowers and gardening so this theme and menu started to take shape.

When I have people over I generally don’t want to rely on my sometimes abrasive personality, so I feel that I need to provide my guests with some enticing reason to be at my home.  Thus, I try to present my food with a pleasing presentation.  That way my guests will at least leave my home thinking it was worth their while to drive all the way over because at least they had a nice meal.  This menu does not let anyone down.  The presentation is simple, but the colors, textures, and flavors come together elegantly.

I looked over my previous menus that I have made for this blog but none are plated that are served to seated guests.  The served, plated dish is one element of many that elevates this menu to something special.  Serving a plated meal also makes your guests feel special too.  For me that is always what I try to achieve:  that my food and the environment in which the food is served becomes my gift to my guests.

To plate the salad and the main course I did enlist helpers, my daughter and her boyfriend.  The key with this menu is to prep, prep, prep.  If you have prepped all your ingredients then it is a snap to assemble.    KitchenAid has an informative page that has a few good tips for plating your food.  Below you will find my kitchen notes on each of the courses and at the end of this page is my Ebay Design Collection for this menu.

Fresh Fig, Prosciutto, and Arugula Salad with Parmesan Shavings

One reason why I prep so much before my guests come over is because I like to chit chat and drink wine.   After all it is a party, but all that chit chat and wine drinking gets me off my mark when I am cooking.  With this meal I was so focused on getting everything prepped for the main course and this salad looked so easy, I didn’t really do any prepping for it.   What could go wrong it looked so simple?  Well, everyone said the salad was great, but I knew something was missing.  I completely forgot the Parmesan cheese!  A minor oversight, yes, but if I had placed each ingredient into little bowls ready to go, I would not have forgotten anything.  Things like that just bug me.  It’s like painting a room and everyone says it looks great, but I can see every little imperfection.  Get your prep bowls out and this salad is a snap to plate and you won’t forget a thing!

Poached Salmon with Tarragon Sauce and Fingerling Potatoes

This menu is for 6 people, but I had 11 at my table, so I doubled everything.  But, original 6 person salmon recipe calls for 2 1/2 to 3 pounds of salmon.  I did not double the salmon as I thought that would be way too much fish.  I was right.  I think I purchased 3 1/2 pounds and it was the perfect amount.  I had light eaters and two guests were children, so when making this dish keep in mind who you are feeding, unless you want a lot of leftover salmon (which can get expensive).

The sauce is amazing and combined with the creamy potatoes and the crunchy snap peas it is a wonderful spring flavored meal.  Each part of the menu can be made well ahead of serving.  The potatoes I made last and close to serving so they were slightly warm.

Berry Tart with Mascarpone Cream

As I mentioned, I doubled all the recipes for this menu, so I made two tarts.  I only have one round removable bottomed tart pan, so I used my rectangle tart pan too.  If you like berries, then this dessert is for you!  Tons and tons of berries and somehow they all fit on the tarts.  The light sauce for the berries has raspberry liqueur and marmalade, it is simple and highlights the berries flavors.  I used cream cheese rather than the mascarpone because I just like cream cheese better in desserts.

The cheese filling for the tart does not need to set nor does it need to bake.  Once you fill it you can top with the berries and eat.  You do, however, have to bake the crust and I would recommend doing that the day before.  This dessert is not time consuming or complicated, but because of all the berries, it has a nice “Wow” look to it.

Lunch Among the Hydrangeas:  An Ebay Design Collection

“The Best of Gourmet:  1999” designed this menu to be set among a Cape Cod garden theme.  Muted colors of lavender, blue, and green complement the soft frosted plates, glasses and flatware.  The garden has a quaint Victorian feel with wicker furniture and whitewashed shuttered windows.  Have fun decorating your May gathering with beautiful blooming hydrangeas.


My Love Affair with Paul Hollywood In the Southwest of England (Chapter One)

My Love Affair with Paul Hollywood In the Southwest of England (Chapter One)

I have been taking a break from my full menus lately because I got swept up in my new love affair with Paul Hollywood–OK, just his book titled British Baking, but seriously, I am in love.  You might want to stop reading right now if you were hoping for something more torrid than flour, fats, and sugar.  I purchased Paul Hollywood’s British Baking book because my 17 year old daughter is a huge fan of the The Great British Bake Off.  This book has been a revolution for me and my baking/cooking skills, but also her skills as well.  I will briefly explain, and then enjoy my photos of my cooking tour of England with our tour guide, my new love, Paul Hollywood.

This book has elevated my cooking skills because Mr. Hollywood has made me more aware of my measurements, ingredients, and what to look for in each stage of the cooking process.  His instructions are brief, yet clear.  The result is a product that is far superior to anything I have baked in the past, but my results from this book are also better than what I can get from most bakeries in my area.  Everything is just delicious and the texture is superb.

My daughter who loves to bake has some special needs that have made cooking and many other things challenging for her in her daily life.  Using standard American measurements of scooping out cups has been one of these challenges for her.  She just does not have the coordination to level off a proper cup of flour, sugar, etc.  It seems like she invariably under or over scoops and I always need to step in to help her make corrections.  Using a scale, however, is much easier for her.  We just put a bowl on top of the scale and she pours the flour in until it reaches the proper weight.  Once it hits the correct number, 500 grams, for example, she stops.  If she over poured than she just takes a little spoon and spoons out very carefully until the number is exactly 500 grams.  This method is so easy for her I can’t believe we haven’t used a kitchen scale a long time ago!  If you have a special needs person in your life who has occupational challenges such as that, I highly recommend switching to weights for cooking rather than American volume cup measurements.

The format of Paul Hollywood’s British Baking book is like a baking tour of the British Isles.  A history of England through the eyes of a baker.  The chapters are divided into geographic and cultural areas of the British Isles.  The recipes include both the savory and sweet,  and yeasted breads to scones.  The array of baked goods in this book is wonderful, and as a student of baking (which you will be if you are cooking from this book) it will keep your interest in both challenges with technique and variety in taste and texture.  Take a look at the pictures of the items we baked from the first chapter and you will can see this variety.

I would love to hear about your cooking revolutions and discoveries and any challenges you may have regarding cooking like those of my daughters.  Please enjoy the pictures and kitchen notes.

I have a feeling once you start baking with Paul Hollywood you will fall in love with him too and start a long and delicious affair with British Baking!


Pictures from Chapter One:  The Southwest

The following pictures are all items from his first Chapter titled, “The Southwest.”  There are two recipes from this chapter I have not made and those are the Baked Somerset Brie and the Oldbury Gooseberry Pies.  I plan to make these, but I can’t find gooseberries right now and the baked brie calls for cranberries which are in season in November.  So, I might add those once I make them at a later date.

Cornish Pasties

These were huge and delicious.  The recipe calls for lard and I think this is the first time I have had lard in my house and thus in my cooking.


Priddy Oggies

Not much to say other than, AMAZING.


Wholemeal Seeded Loaf

Excellent.  I forgot to make the snips along the top of the loaf, but it did not detract from how good this loaf tastes.


Sally Lunn

Another superb baked good.  Have with a cup of tea and some strawberries.

Saffron Cake

The British like their currents and this loaf is stuffed FULL of them.  I was skeptical but the currents are so fruity and delicious and paired with the saffron and lemon peel it was scrumptious.

Devonshire Splits

Best to serve these as soon as you make them.

Dorset Wiggs

As Mr. Hollywood explains in his book, these were originally made close to a brewery using the yeast from the beer making process which is why they were spiced.  The spice attempted to hide the strong flavor of the beer yeast.  I made these with regular bread yeast, but I make beer and I wonder if I should try someday to make these as they originally were made.  That might be a fun cooking experiment.


Mothering Buns

These might be one of my favorite recipes, but they are best served the moment after you frost them.  Don’t attempt to keep them in plastic wrap as the frosting will just drip off.  They taste like a raised doughnut, but so much better and so pretty too!

Strawberry and Pistachio Shortcakes

Stunning presentation and surprisingly easy.

Dorset Apple Cake

Seed Cake

A strong nutmeg flavor.  Great texture.  I used poppy seeds rather than the more traditional caraway.


Hevva Cake

More of those wonderful little fruity jewels called currents.  This cake you have to make to understand.  The picture didn’t make the cake look that appealing to me, but the flavor and texture of this cake is fantastic.  Almost like shortbread, but not.  We Americans just don’t have anything comparable to this cake.

Cornish Fairings

Drink a nice strong Assam Tea with these little cookies.  And you can find the perfect Assam here.