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

Saturday, October 03, 2015
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! 

Pesto recipe

Friday, October 02, 2015
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!

Pine nuts or Cashews?
If you look at the ingredients on a jar of shop brought pesto you'll often see cashews on there. Pine nuts are one of the most expensive nuts so they add cashews to lower the price. Adding cashews also gives you a smoother flavour. It really depends how you want it to taste. 
You can use plenty of other nuts as well - pistachios (if you're feeling decadent), walnuts, brazil nuts, almonds etc.    

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!