Holiday chef 2010 - A chef to cook in your holiday home for the week, breakfast, lunch and dinner

Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Holiday chef - it's a bit like Masterchef, but rather than an over-hyped unrealistic TV programme this is real life. And rather than filling in the TV schedules for weeks on end, this lasted just 8 days. There was only one team (mine) so it wasn't a question of win or lose - we had to win - you only have one chance. Only 2 judges? This holiday chef had between 5 - 16 judges (also known as guests). So what was the verdict? "It was your cookery skill and competance which made our holiday so enjoyable" said the host on the last day :)
View over the cornfield from the top of the drive at Kempley Barns - unending countryside up to the Malvern hills.

I was cooking for a group whose hosts were celebrating their ruby wedding. Like other similar events I have done, their family had been invited for the weekend. Then they went home on the Sunday night and the couple's friends came for the rest of the week. Great way to celebrate with all your family and friends around you. And luxury holiday houses give you much more freedom, but when you have someone like me there cooking, it really is like luxury self catering without the catering.

Outside the barns

Numbers varied between 5 (on the first night) to 10 on Sunday to 16 for the last few days. I served breakfasts on my own, set up a self-service lunch after I had cleared breakfast which I left in the fridge for them to have when they got back from the morning excursions. Then came back in the evening with a member of waiting staff to serve dinner.
The Hayloft kitchen where I cooked - the Hayloft and the Granary can be comined with a communal door. Those beams look great (there's 5 running from one kitchen to the other), but not so good for tall people. Although I have done so many events there I still hit my head once a day - it's when you're least expecting it.

Like other week long events like these I have done the organiser asked me to suggest menu ideas - as menu planning for 3 meals for so many people, and making them all different is quite a task. They had said they wanted breakfasts along continental style breakfast lines and evening meals to be along the bistro menu style, except for Thursday which was their ruby wedding day, so we should go for a special menu for that night. There was also no pork or shellfish throughout. They were happy to go along with what I suggested, although I had to make a few changes as I went along as I realised even I had put a few similar things in - and variety is key. After some previous events I suggested 2 course menus for the evening and just 1 lunch dish - so it didn't overload the guests with too much food and this seemed to work very well.

Friday evening
Grilled chicken and mango salad with coriander and lime

After the guests have had a long drive out to the Cotswolds I like to serve something simple and thought this might hit the spot. It did rather. Good job there was no pattern on the plates - that would have been eaten too. I used the marinade & dressing from here, but as I was writing out the ingredients & equipment packing list, realised there was no starch element, so took along millet seeds too and made a stirfry with mangetout and pak choi to which I added the cooked millet seed, some of the marinade, diced mango, coriander, basil and lime segments and served this warm under the chicken. At the top of the plate was sliced mango and sliced avocado on top. The chicken I rolled in ras el hanout and left this to marinade for a couple of hours before grilling it - nice flavour.

I varied my own homemade bread rolls each day with different flavours & shapes. Today was poppy seed knots.
White chocolate panna cotta with blueberries and the host's own raspberries from their garden

The white chocolate panna cotta was a success too - don't think of milky bar - there is no comparison.

Saturday breakfast

As it was still so warm I was glad I had started off with something simple. Over the years I have found people like the following breakfast items on Saturday mornings, and then go for something more indulgent for the Sunday morning.

Tea, coffee and fruit juice
Greek yogurt with poached pears, honey and toasted almonds
Homemade cranberry granola
Danish pastries, croissant, toasted homemade bread (granary and sunlower & our own toasted pumpkin seed) with marmalade & jam
Fresh fruit

There had also been a request from the 3 year old for pancakes - so I made these also with some sauteed banana on top and maple syrup on the side.

Saturday lunch

Pepper and mozzarella tart - rather like the one, right, I made a few months ago.

Saturday dinner

Chicken goujons with creamed potato, baby carrots and pea puree - for the 3 and 1 year old.

Then, later....
6 hour pot roast shoulder of Home Farm lamb with creamy baked pinto beans, grilled vegetables and tahini dressing

As the weather was so warm I wanted to try and get through the week with light sauces as far as I could. Tahini and lamb is an age old combination and I thought the tahini dressing I made for the asparagus dish back in May would go well with this too.

Originally I was going to serve tabbouleh with this, but realised it was too similar to the millet seed base of the chicken salad I had served the night before, so instead tried these beans out. I had found that recipe earlier in the year when I had been working on summer menus. I used dried pinto beans soaked overnight then boiled in chicken stock - this way you get a much better flavour and texture than using tinned beans. And as I had no leeks in stock I used celery and fennel instead. They were good.

Homemade cumin seed rolls accompanied - lamb, cumin - you see the link?

Blackberry clafoutis with blackberry coulis

Clafoutis was another thing I had yet to try. They had been popping up on food blogs everywhere - was I the only person not to try it? I went for a blackberry version. I was a bit worried at one point. No sooner had I taken the main course out than it seemed to have vanished. Like every other meal, completely empty plates - always a good sign. I kept the oven door firmly shut on the clafoutis and turned the temperature up slightly.

Sunday breakfast

One of the standard items in the kitchens of Kempley Barns is a full container of cornflakes which I utilised. And while they had these, fruit, tea, coffee etc I put together eggs florentine. If you don't eat ham, this is next in line of ultimate Sunday breakfasts.
It was one of my nana's secret lunches - one she kept just for herself. I think she made it for me only once. She would have this occasionally on Grandpa's work days (he worked till 86). On the one hand with the spinach it is very healthy, but there is also the decadence of the hollandaise (although she used to use cheese sauce, and then have cheese sauce left for putting on toast and grilling another lunch day).

Sunday lunch

Antipasti served with ciabatta
Cured meats - smoked duck, smoked venison & salt beef

There was also a plate of serrano ham (sssh - requested by the organiser's husband and son in law while noone was looking).
Pickled mushrooms, marinated artichokes, olives, marinated anchovies
Cheeses - Gorsehill Abbey Farm St. Eadburgha, dolcelatte & manchego

Sunday dinner

This was early - 6pm so there had been minimal time to get back to the kitchen and prep for the evening.

I made onion rolls (right).

In fact it went so quick I forgot to photograph the main course - shame it was pretty good.

Roast fillet of homemade gravadlax with beetroot, fennel and radish salad & garlic and parsley potatoes.

Rather similar to the dish I made here, but obviously with the gravadlax salmon instead of pork tenderloin.

Gravadlax set to cure 01:30 on Saturday morning. Along with the normal salt, spices, dill, lemon and orange zest I added the sugar left over from making candied orange zest (above right) - adds extra flavour.

Ever popular lemon tart - something special before some of the family depart home to London

I had made the tart cases on the Friday night just after serving the dessert - no time to waste. For the 3 yearl old I served a mini portion, but for the 1 year old we served an alternative version in the frog eyed bowl - just the filling with raspberries, no pastry.

Monday breakfast

Now with some of their friends there I made sure the week got off to a good start for them. Among the usual items were the following:

Oh rhubarb! I forgot to pick the rhubarb in my garden. Had to call in back at the house on the way - around 6:30am. Picked in the rain.

From the garden in Tewkesbury to cooked, cooled and served at the table in Kempley in an hour. Is that a record?
Rhubarb and apple compote served with greek yogurt
Melon, raspberries and mint (had you guessed?)
American style pancakes with sauteed bananas and maple syrup

Monday lunch
Cous cous salad with grilled courgettes and chickpeas

I had picked up this cous cous a couple of weeks before and now was the ideal time to put it to the test.

Made a great alternative to the usual.

There was also roasted butternut squash, celery, onions etc as a base with the cous cous, lots of lemon juice, herbs & olive oil.

Monday evening

A barbecue with a view
I set this up on the terrace outside the swimming pool. Stunning site.

  • Rib eye steak marninaded in barbecue sauce
  • Mohito, lime and mint free range chicken (seen marinading far right - eventually made this recipe - it felt a bit odd adding lime juice to the chicken and leaving it, but it was well worth it - amazing taste, definitely one to do again , who can refuse a mohito)
  • Blackened cod
  • Barbecued sweet potato wedges (baked them first in the oven while we set up upstairs)
  • Rather than my usual spinach salad I found this one - spinach, blue cheese, lentils, shallots, walnuts, dried cherries
  • Mixed beans salad
  • 3 rice salad (white, red and wild) topped with roasted tenderstem broccoli
As I was cooking ouside down the garden and the guests were eating indoors upstairs we served it from a chafing dish with the steaks going on the barbecue as the guests were ready to sit down to make sure they didn't overcook (the steaks, not the guests).

While I was barbecuing it was hard to miss the lavender bed right by me. Smelled amazing. I had this idea for the strawberry skewers for dessert. I picked some of the lavender heads and put them on the barbecue and put the lid on top so they would smoke and release their aroma.

We had been lucky with the jelly. Just as I was getting all the ingredients and equipment together earlier in the afternoon back at my kitchen the phone had rung and I put down the gelatine while I took the call. I left it there too as my mind raced to the next thing, so when we arrived, no gelatine. Luckily the owner of the house had some. Saved. It was a bit touch and go but they set just in time - dropping them in the freezer for the last few minutes while they ate the main course helped. 'Pressure for fresher' is an old Claridges motto. It seemed fitting at many times this week.
Pimms Jelly with lavender scented barbecued strawberries

Tuesday breakfast

As well as the normal items, I swapped greek yogurt for tapioca which I left cooking while I set the table and then chilled quickly.
Tapioca with berry compote

I also made mushrooms on toasted muffins.

Tuesday lunch

Tuna, celery and apple macaroni salad

Tuesday Dinner
Ballottine of Madgetts Farm free range duck with leek and basil baked gnocci and carrot noodles

How popular this was! So many of the guests came out to the kitchen to ask how I had made the gnocci & sauce - it would make a great meal in itself (it did for the kitchen staff anyway). Originally this was going to be risotto, but in the afternoon I realised I had paella the next day, so they would be too similar and found this idea instead which I adapted. I made a white wine, shallot, garlic cream sauce to which I added the sauteed leeks, boiled gnocci, lots of grated parmesan, lots of basil and baked this in the oven in the Granary kitchen while the duck roasted in the Hayloft kitchen.

I had never thought of basil and duck together but it seemed really good.

Carrot 'noodles' were roasted with cumin seeds.

Apple pie (made earlier in the day) with vanilla ice cream - who can resist a classic?

Wednesday breakfast

Along with the regaular items were.....
French toast with spiced orange compote

Muesli bars - based on this recipe, but added chocolate pellets, nuts etc.

Wednesday lunch
Beetroot, glazed goats cheese, rocket and pinenut salad

Remember that twinner party dish? Does 6 months late count?

Wednesday dinner
Lemon sole fillets with paella, spinach and pesto

After the paella a few weeks ago I thought it would be good to try it out again.
No pork or shellfish in this one - just used a chicken base.

Creme caramel with brandy snaps

The one shown above is actually a spare one pictured a few days later, without the brandy snap.
More than a year since I made this for a special request - it went down so well I thought I would try it again.
Vanished almost as soon as it had been taken out. We served another one too - one just wan't enough for some.

Making brandy snaps, above left, wrapped around the kitchen roll holder. Melting the caramel stuck to the base, right, to pour over the top of the creme caramel. I used the caramel left from making caramelised apples for tart tatin - extra flavour. Some of the caramel went in the cream mix too instead of adding sugar.

Thursday breakfast

No photo from this morning too. Was working fast - as well as breakfast, lunch and dinner here I had a pig roast to serve for 120 back in Tewkesbury - busy day. I started around 04:15, picked up the pig from the farm at 6am and dropped it off at the bakery, then went on to set up the breakfast and lunch.

As well as the usual breakfast items there was plum puree with greek yogurt and potato rostis with sour cream (also could be eaten with the plum puree).

Thursday lunch

Smoked salmon, pea and dill frittata with watercress and mangetout salad
Thursday dinner

Oops no photos from tonight either. Gill and Joe served this while I was serving the pig roast.

Salad of grilled asparagus with Blacksticks blue cheese and walnuts - like this one served at a wedding in May - no parma ham though


Roast saddle of lamb with nicoise vegetables, fondant potato and a light balsamic jus


Assiette of five desserts (think you've seen enough assiette photos though)

Coffee creme brulee
Shotglass of raspberry sorbet
Mini chocolate tart
Raspberry and lemon meringue roulade
Orange and honey ricotta cheesecake - took the flavours of the sweet ravioli I made a few weeks before

Friday breakfast

As well as the regular items I added avocado and tomato on ciabatta - nice dish for the last breakfast.

So then it was time to clear up and get back to organise the 4 functions for the following day.....

Hog roast at Basepoint Tewkesbury summer event

Monday, July 19, 2010
As venues go this has to be the best I have ever been to - it being so close - it was the unit 4 down from my own kitchen. We had initially planned for it to be outside, but english summers being what they are we relocated to one of the empty units. As I set up the barbecue with pig roast on it all the workers in offices opposite us were starting to get interested, and soon a mass of people arrived, and the pig was left decimated.
It was about as local as you could get - the pig was Gloucester Old Spot/ Berkshire cross (ultimate combination) from Home Farm in Bredon's Norton - 5 miles away and cooked in the bakery oven at Drapers on Northway Lane, just round the corner from Basepoint.

So many people said it was the best they had been to. The bakery oven gets the crackling just perfect.

70th birthday barbecue catering near Bourton on the Water, Gloucestershire

Wednesday, July 07, 2010
2 barbecues on 2 consecutive days and both for 70th birthdays - must be barbecue season! Both also featured the blackened cod - must be my favourite. Marinated in a mix of soy, oyster sauce, thai fish sauce, chopped lemon grass, grated ginger and garlic, mirin, dark brown sugar, ground cumin and coriander & fresh coriander. Completely transforms it. It helps when you have a BBQ with a lid. This was one of the best barbecues I have ever used - a Weber. Managed to get the coals just the right temperature so food would cook rather than burn.
Barbecue with a view (house had a 180 degree view - stunning)

As there was one vegan guest for this one I made a few vegan items - grilled field mushroom with shallot curry (pre-cooked the curry while they had canapes then put in the raw mushroom and let it cook on the BBQ) and roasted pepper with chickpeas with chilli and garlic (he liked spicy food), and also black bean kofta with soy yogurt and mint in pitta.

Although we have tempting desserts you can cook on the barbecue they were interested in the assiette, but to have 3 rather than 5, so I made them slightly lager - muffin size tart cases for the chocolate tart and the creme brulee in the mini bread and butter dishes rather than the japanese spoons. And raspberry sorbet.

Sunset from the kitchen door while the guests ate dessert
'Did you leave anything for me?'
Then as we were clearing up...... pop. Out went the lights. The third time this year - I'm not kidding. After our experience in January though - this was a piece of cake. In January we had arrived at a venue to cook for 31 guests and found there was no power at all - the local substation had blown. We couldn't even get in though the electric gates - all our equipment and food had to be passed over the gates, and driven up to the house, and then of course, no lights too cook with, or set the table with, no electric hob or oven to cook with, no hot water, just an aga which was 1/5 of the power it should be. The hosts had decked the place in candles and hoped for the best. They got it too - it all went fine - I'll never forget all those pheasants, vegetables and potatoes in one aga. Amazing. Boiling water for washing up took 1 1/2 hours. Then in April we did a canape wedding in Gloucester and half way through proceedings, just as it was getting dark the fuse blew for the kitchen lights. Not the receptions rooms - were all the guests were - they were fine, just the kitchen for some reason. Try as they might each time it just kept tripping so in the end it was back to decking the kitchen out in candles again.

So this time at least we got to clear nearly everything from the table before we enetered darkness. It's all part of the fun/ challenge of cooking in people's homes.
Just as I had packed up the last thing in the van around 23:30 they had located the problem room. They had kept switching everything off/ on in various rooms of the house to see which room was causing the fuse box to go. Which room was it? The kitchen of course. It's always the ktichens' fault!