Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Halibut baked in salt crust

Seabass baked in salt is a Sicilian speciality. It was seabass that I cooked in the salt crust for a family last December near Chipping Norton - they were celebrating Chanuka at the same time as a 70th birthday. The family were originally from Italy, hence the Italian theme.
As it was their father's birthday, his sons were hellbent on revenge and played a blindfold wine tasting session. Their father was given glasses from his wine cellar (he had visited the vineyards where he had brought his wine from), and glasses from various budget supermarket plonk. Could he tell the difference blindfold? The result? Well that would be telling, but it certainly made the sons' night!

The idea of this dish is you make a verrrrrrrrrrrrrry salty dough which you bake the fish in. You can add herbs, lemon, capers, peppercorns of various colours etc to flavour it. The fish bakes in the steam created inside the salt crust and takes a little of the salt seasoning like you would expect - it's just enough salty twang, not overpowering like you would think from that much salt; instead it's delicious and very moist.
Raddichio braised in red wine and balsamic. By the time the wine and balsamic has reduced to a glaze the raddichio is ready. You can also sprinkle them with parmesan and flash them under the grill. Something I discovered on holiday. 
It's a bit of food theatre - you take the fish in salt crust to the table and let the guests break it open, warning them not to eat the crust! They have another plate with the accompaniments in front of them, and aioli to go with it which is the traditional sauce. Real Italian food is about big flavours done simply - and it doesn't get better than this! Why complicate everything?
You bake the fish skin side up so the skin sticks to the crust and comes off when you remove the top crust. It's always good trying something out for the first time at an event - it has to work, there is no room for error. It did too! Worked in the one above too, which was a halibut version I cooked the night that my Mum and I were planning her 70th birthday road trip around NZ.

What a fun dish - why don't you try it!? I used this recipe, with a little adapting along the way.....

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Warm chocolate mousse? Who knew it's a thing?

It's always interesting when you take on another chef's menu. Maybe it's like a Times journalist being asked to write a one off piece for the Telegraph - it's the same kind of language, but someone else's world.
Trio dessert - Raspberry Eton mess, glazed lemon tart and warm chocolate mousse
So it was with the menu we served last Saturday. You hear scare stories sometimes of chefs not turning up at events, or bowing out at the last moment when something else more lucrative comes along. I just can't understand them: once you've committed to a job, you've committed to it, and that's that, whatever else comes along - your clients put their trust in you, and you should honour that!

Not everyone thinks like this however, but I'm always there if you need to pick up the pieces. This party near Bourton-on-the-Water was one that another chef had backed out of a week before the event, so I took on the same menu.

Warm chocolate mousse? I've never heard of it either, but, wow! What a revelation! It's like a light version of chocolate fondant. Still soft in the middle - heaven! We served ours in a cup & used this recipe.

It actually works quite well re-heated in the microwave the day after cooking - if you've got any leftovers that is!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Herefordshire Hanger steak with blackberries and sloe gin.... oh and game chips!

Crazy right now, looking back through the photo archives and finding hundreds of dishes and events I haven't done anything with. Must have been busy or something.
This was actually a dish from the end of November last year near Burford. A birthday event for a couple who owned a restaurant, an ice cream bar and a cafe in Cheltenham. No pressure then!

Hanger steak was a new find of mine from earlier in the year, at the wedding where the bride and groom flew in by helicopter. Hanger steak has far more flavour than fillet and sirloin if truth be known, and it's cheaper, so why isn't it as popular? You guys are missing out!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Rose scented macarons

It's funny those things you put off. Pastry was the only area of the kitchen I never got round to in all the hotels I worked in, so I've taught myself over the last 10 years. Macarons were that thing that I was always scared to touch. But, then, like everything else, someone asks you if you can do it, and the answer is always 'yes of course!'. And so it was, a couple of years ago.

That first time, the first batch around midnight was a disaster, but the second batch at 2am turned out pretty good. It's all about learning from your mistakes. This time round they were simple - what's the big fuss - it's only meringue really.
Rose syrup to flavour the macarons. Also nice to flavour prosecco. Apparently.

I started this batch, above, at 5am on the day of the event (a wedding afternoon tea), only then realising I didn't have any ground almonds. Nightmare. This is when the Vitamix comes into it's own. Whole skinned almonds blitzed down even finer than the ground almonds you can buy. Result! The trick is being gentle with the folding, and sieving 4 times. Oh and a bit of patience......

I used this recipe and flavoured it with rose syrup which you can buy at asian food shops.

How far apart to pipe macarons? There's a handy template here - you just place your greaseproof paper over it and pipe into the circles - life made easy!

Grilled lobster with garlic and herb butter

Grilled lobster with garlic and herb butter, crushed Anya potatoes and French beans wrapped in pancetta
Sometimes simple is best. People can get carried away with lobster dishes, maybe it's best to enjoy it as it is - this is what the host of this party asked for, and it went down really well with everyone!

This was a farewell dinner for the owner of the rather impressive Bibury Court. It has been run as a hotel for nearly 50 years, but small one off boutique hotels are very hard to make work financially. A couple of years ago they reverted it back into a large country house and were letting it out as a whole venue. Pretty amazing for a wedding! We did their Christmas and New Year catering in 2014 - 5. But now, sadly, it has been sold to a wealthy individual who is converting it back into a private house. That's going to be some awesome house!
Much to the horror of the waitresses you have to split the lobsters live and put them directly on to the grill pan. If you let lobsters die naturally the flesh breaks down and is mushy & disintegrates when cooked - not good to eat. This is why they need to be cooked fresh - you have to respect your ingredients! 

If you've ever sampled lobsters in a restaurant and found them tough, this is most likely when they are pre-cooked and refrigerated, then heated up when serving - the same as if you're buying them cooked from a supermarket. Sacrilege. 

Cooking lobster deserves love and attention. You need to cook it absolutely at the last minute before serving, even if this makes a bit of stress in the kitchen. 

Because this is being finished with garlic and herb (chives, sage and thyme from the garden outside the kitchen I was cooking in + tarragon and dill), you cook the bodies slightly less, then take the legs off and put them back on the grill pan to finish cooking. The legs can then be cracked and kept warm and added to the head cavity to garnish just before serving. 
Then the lobster bodies get a brief poaching with the garlic & herb butter in the oven to get the flavour through there just before serving, taking care that it's just cooked, soft & delicious! 
This was the hottest night on record this year, which is why the guests delayed to a 9:30pm start - by which time the air had begun to cool (well in the restaurant area at least! #chefslife).
Golden beetroot and baby leaf kale salad to accompany
The secret ingredients? You can add crushed pink peppercorn and ground cardamon to the garlic butter. Every bit helps!
The lobster's revenge!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Think you don't like sprouts? Think again - try these red pesto and parmesan roasted flowering sprouts!

Flowering sprouts were my great find of 2015.
It's a shame a lot of people don't like sprouts. It was probably different for me - when I was young my Grandad grew every possible fruit and veg in the garden, and when you've seen the sprouts go from seedlings, to being planted out, tended for black fly, fed, watered, covered during frost etc through to picking and cooking with Gran in the kitchen, it makes you look forward to them every season. 
These new flowering sprouts are a cross between sprouts and kale, and whereas the traditional brussel sprout has densely packed leaves, these are light and delicious!

Red pesto and parmesan roasted flowering sprouts
  1. Blanch flowering sprouts in boiling salted water for about 1 minute. Drain and dry off excess water. 
  2. Roll in olive oil (you could use butter instead). Season with crushed sea salt, cracked pepper and fresh grated nutmeg. They are really nice to eat just like this!
  3. Roast in the oven @ 200 oC for 10 - 15 minutes till colouring on the outside. Caramelisation = flavour!
  4. Drizzle with red pesto and sprinkle over grated parmesan. 
Simple, but delicious. Who needs meat?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Special birthday dinner party catering in Blockley, Gloucestershire.

Surprise! You're not going out to the local pub tonight - we're here too cook for you!

Always good when you can surprise the birthday guest!

Homemade Bread Rolls


Smoked Salmon Scotch Quail Egg Lollipop


Potted Lobster with Toast, Gem Leaves, Crème Fraiche and Lemon


Fillet of Beef with Potato Puree, Caramelised Carrots, Marrowbone, Bacon, Cognac, Garlic, Thyme and Greens


Assiette of Cheeses;
Cotswold Brie
Single Gloucester
Oxford Isis
Shropshire Blue
Celery, Seedless Grapes, Dried Fruit, Chutney and Biscuits
[Kitchen Note; cater for 4 and split between 6 to fit with budget]


Autumn Russet Tart Tatin with Cream

I was actually using the menu they had created themselves, but it turned out rather well.  To keep the smoked salmon scotch quail eggs runny in the middle I had to take along my deep fryer as well to cook them at the last minute - it was all quite a tight fit in the modest sized holiday house kitchen. Luckily there was no rain, so we were working half in the kitchen, and half outside the kitchen door - when you're catering for events you have to be adaptable to whatever environment you find yourself in!

The secret to the potted lobster is to cook it as close to the time you're going to serve it as possible, so the lobster meat stays soft, rather than going rock hard, which is what you find in supermarket lobsters. These babies were still alive an hour before I left!

This was also the night I discovered flowering sprouts - they're definitely my new favourite thing.  

Cheese before dessert or after? It's always a thing people dither over. The French normally have cheese before dessert. I always suggest having cheese last, otherwise people enjoy it too much, then don't want to have dessert. The other way round however, and if you can't manage cheese after dessert you can always have it for lunch the next day, which is not so easy to do with the dessert. Maybe we should have switched it round for this party too!

Catered birthday dinner party in Cardiff

That (almost) week between Christmas and New Year! Goes so fast doesn't it? Especially when you've got have other parties to cook for whilst preparing for New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. This one in Cardiff was on New Year's Eve Eve.

Chilli and garlic prawns
Slow roast belly pork with fondant potato and pancetta wrapped cabbage

Pics from my client's phone, and it was all mood lighting that night. Frying chilli, garlic and ginger while everyone's having pre-dinner drinks seems to be a winner - gets everyone going!

The best thing about cooking these dinner parties in front of the clients is when you get people to try things they wouldn't normally have..... and they love them, like raw marinated courgettes, or the pancetta wrapped cabbage. 

Pancetta wrapped Savoy cabbage
'Cos everything tastes better wrapped in pancetta, right? The flavour of the pancetta goes through the cabbage. I also made them for a friend the other day who really doesn't do vegetables at all - and he ate it all. Result!
  1. Tie the savoy cabbage wedges together to save them falling apart. 
  2. Blanch them for approx 2 minutes in boiling salted water. 
  3. Refresh in cold water. 
  4. Wrap in pancetta
  5. Blast them in the oven 10 - 15 minutes @ 180 oC. 

Christmas sandwich and cake buffet for an office party

Chocolate log
Turkey, red pepper, spinach and cream cheese Christmas tree
Smoked salmon and cucumber Christmas trees
Beef, rocket & horseradish snowmen
Oreo white chocolate baubles

Gravity birthday cake with jelly bean ice cream for children's TV characters theme night

For four years now we've been cooking for this corporate group over 3 days in different venues in the Cotswolds. Based in all parts of the UK they meet up once a year in the Cotswolds. Each year is a different fancy dress theme, and they really go to town on it. And each year they have practiced some new musical offering in pairs which forms the post-meal evening entertainment.

This year their fancy dress night (children's tv character from accross the years) happened to coincide with a fiftieth birthday, so in keeping with the Children's party theme we made a chocolate gravity cake with smarties, chocolate fingers and marshmallows. Then, after the requisite photo op served it as dessert with jelly bean ice cream and prosecco jelly. Good job calories don't count after 9pm......

Jelly was so popular we had to send out the spares too!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Making magic for your one special day!

It makes all the hard work worth it when everyone enjoys the wedding! This was one near Tewkesbury where we made the Dairy free Eton Mess for the first time.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Catering for a wedding near Banbury - Greek style meze and whole lamb roast

Dear James

I'm sorry it has taken a couple of weeks for us to contact you to say a HUGE thank you for the catering you provided for Sarah & James' tipi wedding at Old Manor Farm on the 12th September.  A few days after the wedding, the newlyweds returned to Grand Cayman and I have travelled back to Zambia with Rebekah and my two grandchildren for a 3 week stay.

Once again, Bensons pulled out the stops and provided a fantastic service and fabulous food, despite travelling considerably "off patch".  The theme of slate platters for the mezzes and desserts worked really well, as did the sharing of salads and meat on the tables, creating the friendly, casual feel which we had aimed for in the tipis.  We have never been able to fault the food you have created for our events, or others we have attended, and we will certainly contact you again should we be planning any further events (we have no more daughters, but maybe "big" birthdays will be the next event).

During the months of planning for the wedding we have received very prompt and friendly replies from Anton in response to our many queries, which has helped us enormously.  Thanks to you James for all your hard work behind the scenes, your trips to Stratford to discuss the details, and for tidying up so efficiently well into the night.  It made everything so much easier for us the following day or two when we had to clear the field.  And a special thanks to Julie and her colleague for the construction and dismantling of the catering tent on the Friday and Sunday.  

The whole day was truly magical and luckily the weather was great, despite a few dark clouds hovering as the Pimms and canapés emerged!  Thank you to all your team for playing such a large part in making it so perfect for Sarah and James.  

Very best wishes

Di, Sarah & James

From top left to right:
1 - Dolmas - homemade vine leaves. Had great fun rolling those - recipe from the Supper Club book. Luckily there's a Turkish food shop a few streets away which sells the leaves. Thought we'd made too many - but they all went!
2 - Chillis growing for stuffed chillis
3 - Falafel and cherry tomatoes - recipe from Ottoleghi - seriously one of the most popular things we served this summer at different events. Homemade falafel are about 10.3 million times better than shop brought ones!
4 - More dolmas with olives and caperberries in pesto marinade
5 - Garlic and thyme pitta crisps and homemade spicy bread sticks with homemade hoummous & tatziki
6 - Grilled halloumi with lime & capers - again, thought we'd cut way too much halloumi, but as soon as the plates went out, they came back empty, guests just couldn't get enough. Same thing happened with halloumi at other barbecues we served throughout the summer.
7 - Greek style meatballs
8 - Baba ganoush - burn those aubergines!
9 - Flavoured butter to go with bread rolls as the bride requested - we made Black olive, sun dried tomato & basil, horseradish & chive and chilli, lime & coriander.
10 - Whole lamb roast for main course served on platters with individual dauphinoise potato with salads served on the table: Beetroot, Rocket, Fennel Radish and Apple Salad with Cider Vinaigrette, Lebanese Salad, Roast Butternut Squash Salad with Pomegranate, Crispy Squash Seeds, Olives, Rocket and Walnut  
11 - Trio desserts: Lemon and raspberry meringue roulade (made at 2am that morning), shotglass of tirimisu and their wedding cake made by the bride's mother - always good when the wedding cake actually gets eaten!
12 - The next day was Mamma Benson's 70th birthday, and what better way to spend your birthday morning that help clearing up a wedding venue! I did take her out for lunch afterwards though! 

Friday, October 02, 2015

Pesto recipe

What is it suddenly about guests asking for recipes? Must be  doing something right - lots of them keep asking atm, even when you're in the middle of serving 82 covers (not quite the right time).
Nettle and chorizo risotto with grilled scallops and nettle pesto

If you're a purist you believe in only basil pesto. Go beyond the boundaries, however, and in Pestoland there are as many variations as you can dream up: beetroot, parsley, nettle, walnut, tarragon, pistachio, red pepper, sun dried tomato, kale, pumpkin seeds, courgette, even sweetcorn (apparently). Take a look at some here!

Top tips to a good pesto? 
  • Extra virgin olive oil can be a little strong & pungent for pesto - if using extra virgin consider using 1/2 and 1/2 with vegetable oil or low grade olive oil to tone it down. 
  • Like a good stew, pesto seems to taste better the next day when all the flavours have developed. 
  • If you want to keep it for a few weeks in the fridge transfer to a jar. Add oil so the herb/ nut body of the pesto is covered - this prevents the air getting to it and it will keep. 
  • If you want to turn the pesto in a dressing simply add more oil. 
Pesto recipe

125g ish of herbs, depending on what you have growing. The version I made a few weeks ago was heavy on the basil, also with spinach, rocket, parsley, tarragon and nettles which all add a bit of depth.
75g Nuts - I used a mix of half pinenuts, half cashews
75g Grated parmesan
75ml Extra virgin olive oil
75ml Regular blended olive oil, or vegetable oil
1 - 2 Garlic cloves, depending on size and pungency.

  1. If you need to wash the herb leaves, make sure they are well dried on a clean dry cloth before using. Water mixing with the oil in the pesto makes it go white as it emulsifies, after it settles it splits - not good!
  2. Traditionally you would use a pestle and mortar. Now we have food processors and vitamixes and life is all good. You can choose how fine you want your pesto: a blunt charity shop food proccessor will make a coarse pesto, and slightly darker, as the more herbs are chopped and bruised the darker they go. The vitamix will whizz it into a fine bright green puree in seconds. The Kenwood mini chopper seems to go somewhere in the middle. It really depends on what you want to use your pesto for. 
  3. Blend all the ingredients till your desired texture is achieved. 
  4. Taste for seasoning.
Pesto baked salmon with orange and feta
Dairy free and nut free alternatives

Yes - we have it all these days, including garlic free. Anything's possible!

Dairy free pesto - replace parmesan with a splash of lemon juice, or adding nutritional yeast. I've tried it with vegan 'cheese' and it's not nice (soy cheese tastes too weird). A few cannellini beans are another cheese replacement possibility. 

Nut free pesto - replace nuts with brown rice, bulgar wheat, chickpeas, soy beans, sunflower or pumpkin seeds. Also check the oil you are using - blended oil can include nut oils!


Links to the Vitamix and Kenwood above certainly weren't paid for - they're just great machines which make the kitchen a happier place......

Bring the bistro to your home for the night - bistro dinner in Churchdown, Gloucester || Pea & mint soup recipe

The lady of the house must have know I was coming.....
Sometimes simple things are the best, especially when made from scratch. The pea soup starter went down so well at a Sunday night family reunion dinner party the host asked for the recipe, so here it is!
Bistro classics for simple food done well: Pea & mint soup; Longhorn rib eye steak with lemon roast new potatoes, red pesto and french beans wrapped in pancetta; Strawberry daquiri cheesecake

Pea and mint soup

A soup needs a good stock. For that you have to make your own! You can also use chicken stock for the base instead of vegetable – roast your chicken bones and add to the rest of the ingredients below.

Vegetable stock:

You can vary the stock depending on what vegetables you have in your fridge to use up. But note – it should always include onion, carrot & celery as a base. Never add starchy vegetables e.g. potatoes, parsnips as they will make the stock go cloudy and it will turn into more of a soup. Remember that all the flavours you added to your stock will go into whatever you make from it – so depending on what you make you may go easy on some ingredients e.g. garlic, coriander, lemongrass trimmings etc.  You can make a large batch by multiplying the ingredients below and freezing the stock in batches or ice cubes for whenever you want to use it in your cooking.


1 tbsp olive oil
Handful of carrots
2 onions
4 celery sticks
2 leeks
1 bulb fennel
2 handfuls mushrooms
3 tomatoes (optional – depending on what you are using the stock for)
3 cloves garlic (check your guests for garlic allergies)
1 bayleaf
Large sprig of thyme
Parsley stalks
1 tsp peppercorns
1 tsp coriander seeds (optional – depending on what you are using the stock for)
½ lemon cut into slices
Other leftover vegetables or veg trimmings to taste
1.5 litres of water

  1. Cut all the vegetables into roughly 1cm dice.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and add all the ingredients.
  3. Cook on a medium heat without colouring for 5 minutes, allowing the vegetables to soften slightly.
  4. Add the water and bring to the boil.
  5. Once boiling turn down to simmer and allow to simmer for 30 minutes.
  6. Strain through a sieve. Taste it. If there is not enough depth of flavour you can bring it back to the boil and allow it to reduce till you are satisfied with the taste.
This recent crop of pea shoots had passers by looking in from the street when I had them growing on the front window. It's a wonder more people don't grow them - it's so easy from dried peas.

Pea and mint soup

1 medium onion, diced
2 - 3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp vegetable oil
400g fresh peas + few pea pods
750ml vegetable, chicken or gammon stock
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
Crème fraiche to taste: 2 – 3 tbsp +
Handful of mint
Grating of nutmeg
½ tsp ground coriander
Knob of butter
½ Lemon juiced

Top Tips: To keep your pea soup green you want to boil the peas for as short a time as possible – once they are soft they are done. The bicarbonate of soda is a magic ingredient which helps keep the green colour too.

  1. Sweat the onion in the vegetable oil till soft but not coloured. Add the garlic and cook for another minute till garlic is soft but not coloured. Add the stock and bring to the boil.
  2. Make sure the onion is soft enough to blend in to a puree before you add the peas, as the peas don’t take long to cook.
  3. Add the bicarbonate of soda to the boiling stock , then add the peas and return to the boil.
  4. Once boiled reduce to simmer and cook for about 5 – 8 minutes till peas are soft.
  5. Add mint and allow to wilt in the soup, then blitz in a blender till smooth.
  6. Return to the pan, and then finish it with seasoning, crème fraiche, butter & lemon juice. If you think it needs it you can also add a bit of nutmeg & ground coriander.
  7. Depending on how powerful your blender is you may want to pass this, or you may not – the choice is yours!
  8. The host had grown up in Bermuda and retired to Churchdown in Gloucester to be near the other half of her family, so there were reminders of Bermuda everywhere - like this recipe for Pawpaw (Papaya) Mostespan which sounds like it has to be made! 'Top round ground' is minced beef btw.
I rather like the look of this recipe too which was hanging on the wall because the amounts are rather relaxed - if you have an abundance of citrus left from a large event this would be a good use for it!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Clams, mussels, squid and tiger prawns in black bean sauce for a 21st birthday pan asian theme buffet in Minster Lovell near Oxford


Please pass on our thanks to James and the rest of the team – the food was fantastic (asparagus tempura and crispy shredded beef were highlights!) and Jessie was really pleased with everything.

Thanks again


Of all the things we've cooked this year (that's a lot of things) I think this has been my favourite so far! It's all in the sauce, so don't go thinking you can use a brought ready made one. 
Black bean sauce is actually surprisingly easy to make, so much so you kind of wonder why you've never got round to it before. It helps, of course, now being based round the corner from all sorts of different ethnic food shops. I used this black bean sauce recipe and dropped the seafood into it to cook & take on the flavours - wild! This was served in chafing dishes, buffet style in the barn.
Sushi as a canape, made on site, minutes before it went out - can't beat the freshness! Vegetable maki rolls, cooked prawn uramaki rolled in sesame, tuna rolls in (raw) savoy cabbage leaves, salmon nigiri, gunkan maki with keta caviar, and swordfish nigiri. 

It's amazing how often people think you just turn up on the day and that's it. They don't see the 7 day industry that goes behind all the setting up, and clearing away. This party took 10 days in total from beginning to end. The pan asian menus especially take a lot of food preparation, both before and on the day, but it's all worth it for those fresh flavours - you can't get that with ready made sauces etc. It must have made on an impression on the birthday girl's aunt as well - as she has since booked us to cater for her wedding at the same venue next year!
So after a pan-asian style main, the birthday girl had decided on a more english style dessert with lemon & raspberry meringue roulade, chocolate eclair and shotglass of raspberry sorbet. Mix and match the styles - that's what it's all about!


Sushi Selection;
including vegetable and avocado, cooked prawn, raw salmon and tuna, keta caviar
Served with Wasabi, Soy Sauce and Pickled Ginger

Catered Buffet Menu

Sharing Platters Starter

Crispy Confit Duck Spring Rolls with Hoi Sin Dip
Stir Fried Salt and Pepper Squid
Asparagus Tempura
Beef Tataki
Prawns in Lemongrass and Coconut


Selection of 4 main courses

Chicken Katsu Curry
Pad Thai Noodles with Tofu
Crispy Shredded Beef with Honey Chilli Sauce
Mussels, Clams, Squid, Prawns and Edamame in Black Bean Sauce

served with;
Plain Steamed Rice
Pak Choi with Garlic, Ginger and Oyster Sauce


Trio of desserts;

Mini Chocolate Éclairs
Mini Lemon Meringue Roulade
Shotglass of Homemade Raspberry Mojito Sorbet 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Barbecue falafel kebabs

By far the runaway most popular barbecue item of this year! Has falafel been on TV or something?
You have to serve them with hoummous to get the whole experience. We had to make extra for every barbecue we served because those naughty meat eaters wanted to eat them too! 

Used the Ottolenghi recipe from his Jerusalem book. I remember the first time we ever tried making them in 2007, and every attempt kept disintegrating in the deep dryer till we gave up in rage. The trick, as it turns out, is to keep pulverising the raw chickpeas in the food processor till they come together in a ball in your hands. When it's ready, you just know. You just have to keep practicing! It's worth it though - the homemade ones taste about 10 million times better than anything you can buy. 

Also nice with tatziki - who needs meat?!

Dairy free eton mess for a wedding near Tewkesbury

A record number of dietary requirements this year. Unlike a lot of people I do try and go out of my way to make sure they have as near to what everyone else is having as it can be. If you research recipes, and hunt down ingredients, anything is possible really, it just takes time and care! Far too many other chefs don't bother, so the gluten free, dairy free etc guests we cook for are always amazed at what we serve up for them!

Dairy free whipped cream? Easy! With a bit of help from @CocoPazzo .

Chill a tin of coconut milk in the fridge overnight. It has to be good quality coconut milk with high fat content. Refrigerating it makes it split between the coconut fat and thin water at the bottom.

Scoop off the coconut fat into a mixing bowl. Beat with an electric whisk till thick. If you've really thought in advance you could chill the mixing bowl too - to prevent it heating and splitting. You can add sugar and vanilla if you want to make it slightly sweeter, like I did here.

It pipes beautifully. All the chefs and waiting staff liked the coconut whipped 'cream' version better than the normal dairy cream version - the piping bag and mixing bowl were wiped completely clean - you can't get much better recommendation than that!

If you're being hi-tech you can also use an isi gun for this. According to information received the isi gun likes 35% fat content and the average can of coconut milk is 20%, so add 2 tbsp of coconut oil to the coconut cream and mix at room temperature, then chill overnight in the fridge before putting in the isi gun. Using coconut milk with added guar gum is also another tip to help prevent the coconut cream and coconut oil from separating while chilling.

We finished this one off with dried coconut flakes and toasted coconut. Despite the fact that it helps distinguish the dairy free version from the normal one, it also adds a bit more coconut flavour! Should have added malibu!


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Tabbouleh with grilled sweet potato, celariac & pink grapefruit salad

"I feel sick" said our client as we were unpacking. Oh dear were we going to have to take over front of house as well? "How quick can you get the food ready?"
Turned out her 51 guests were arriving to eat at 12:30, not 2:30 as she had organised and her sick feeling was panic. I think she'd been used to shouty chefs. Who needs it? Much better to see these things as a challenge. "Riiiiight - let's go then!"
By some miracle we got 2 1/4 hours work done in 45 minutes - love bit of pressure! 10 minutes before we had originally been meant to start serving, the guests had finished and were leaving for the Christening ceremony none the wiser to the emergency behind the scenes. Job done.

Due to the rush this healthy living autumnal salad was rather rustic in presentation - but tasted great. Once you've segmented the pink grapefruit you can squeeze the remaining juice from the remaining flesh over the salad along with olive oil as a dressing.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sole roulades with saffron risotto, mussel broth and french beans wrapped in pancetta served near Cirencester

From a 50th birthday we served in the middle of June for a family from the States staying near Cirencester on the Cotswolds leg of their UK trip. They were so overjoyed with everything we served (this was preceded by a soufflé starter and followed by a trio of desserts and this was after their delivery meal we made for them the day before).  
 It's always good to be part of that special moment for people's birthdays!
There's a sole mousse which binds these together with the herbs picked from outside my kitchen window.

Gluten free bagels

"Wow for the first time ever I can eat the same as everyone else!"

Whatever you can make, you can nearly always make it gluten free too - like these bagels as part of a 40th birthday buffet delivery. I used the normal Doves Farm gluten free bread recipe, but of course it is very sticky. Let it rest for 90 mins - 2 hours after you have mixed it. As well as letting the yeast rise, the resting time allows the various flours in the flour mix to fully absorb the liquid and the dough is thicker and firmer and much better to work with.
Now re-mix the dough and shape it into bagel shapes. You do need a fair bit of gluten free flour (yes - make sure it's gluten free you use for dusting - easy mistake to use normal flour, then you have to start all over again!) on your hands & and the table top to make sure it doesn't stick.
Let the bagels rise - this may take 1 - 1 ½ hours depending on the heat in your kitchen. They should double in size. The dough will still be very sticky at this point so here's a golden tip - put the tray of proved bagels into the freezer for about an hour so they go slightly hard on the outside. Now you can boil them like normal bagels and they hold together. Then bake as normal. 
Love your gluten free guests! 

American Independence Day 4th July garden party near Tewkesbury

Your golden wedding? Why not make a weekend of it! Especially when guests fly in from around the world. For this event a lot of their friends came over from the states, and as the Friday night also happened to be the 4th of July they all suggested an Independence day American themed party, and the American contingent came up with the menu choices too.....
This was another event with the Tewkesbury town band playing. Of course we had to start with the USA national anthem!
As always it was busy setting in the marquee and we didn't get quite as many pics as we would have liked - there's always next year.....

Barbecue Style Buffalo Wings with Blue Cheese Dip
"I didn't know buffalo had wings - I thought they were like cows...." Yes this did really happen #facepalm.

Zucchini Parmesan Crisps with Guacamole and Salsa - brief glimpse above cut from another pic. Went very fast. Makes a great snack too!

Grilled Shrimp with Cilantro Sauce


All American Classic Cheese Burgers & Vegetarian Mushroom and Boston Bean Burgers
With a kettle barbecue after you have barbecued the burgers you can put the cheese on, put them on a tray and close the lid. That way the cheese melts on top without dripping and you still have your barbecue flavour.  Burgers and sausages below from Martins Meats.

Sticky Ribs with Sour Cream and Chive Dip
Barbecue Sage Hot Dogs & Vegetarian Sausages with Corn Relish
Great plates, no? We also had stars & stripes napkins and tablecloth from the USA food store in London.

Pulled Pork with Jerk Sauce
This got all the guys going! Slow cooked in our special marinade in the oven for 10 hours, then finished on the barbecue. Then you can literally pull it to pieces. What's not to love?

all served with;
Buns, Ketchup, Mustard, Pickles, Relish and Mayonnaise
Sweet Potato Fries
Red, White and Blueberry Coleslaw

Black Bean Salad

Honey Mustard Potato Salad


Traditional Apple Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream (complete with stars & stripes!)
Key Lime Cheesecake
Blackberry Pie and Vanilla Ice Cream
The lavender was in full flower in the Upper Court garden so it seemed wrong not to use it. Also added these USA flag wafers for that 4th July touch!


Tea and Coffee with Red, White and Blue Strawberries
(A work in progress these....)

After this it was on to their Saturday lunch buffet and all the other Saturday events - long live summer!


Dear Anton (and everyone at Benson's!)

Yesterday (Thursday), we eventually said 'goodbye' to the last of our guests - 2 Americans and 3 Barbadians so I can breathe.....which is more than your staff managed to do last week-end!

Everyone was truly wonderful and we want to say a great big 'thank you' to all of you.  Gill, as 'front-of-house' manager on both dates did a wonderful job in organising your staff but also was great with our guests (and the audio-visual equipment!).

Although James obviously does not like the 'limelight' he clearly had everything/everyone under control behind the scenes on 4th and 5th and the events were so enjoyed by everyone.  Universal comments about all the food - how delicious; wonder where that recipe came from?; really wonderful!

A lot of our 'local guests' (about 30% of the total group) asked us for your details so I hope you are not busier than ever.  James and Gill must be totally exhausted if all their summer week-ends are timetabled as this last???!!

Thank you so much again and do hope your move to Gloucester goes well next week.

With all kind regards   Marguerite and Brian Harris