Seven Course Tasting Menu near Cirencester

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Pavé of Halibut with Oxtail

In case you haven't heard La Belle Assiette is at the forefront of changing the English perception of private chefs. As staying in becomes the new going out, more chefs are giving up the restaurant kitchen stove and taking the restaurant out to people's homes instead. Kind of what I've been doing for the last 10 1/2 years, though now, on occasions, I also do them for La Belle Assiette clients, as I was on this evening.
As I always say to the clients at the events I do - it's much more interesting cooking in a different place each time than being stuck in the same underground kitchen of a hotel or restaurant. And there's also a much better client - chef interaction, none more so than when you are doing a tasting menu.

This was for a joint 30th birthday in early November - so both husband and wife had a decision on the menu. I gave them 4 choices per course to choose from - this is what they chose. I talked about each dish with the guests just before plating it up.
Pork Cheek, Celariac and Watercress
Also making an appearance - romanesco which you burn with a blow torch (gives it a nice barbecue style flavour), toasted pine nuts, pickled butternut squash ribbon, beetroot coulis - all the flavours!
We do quite a lot of hog roasts through the year, and there are always some guests who are in the know and ask for the pig's cheeks & ears - they're the tastiest parts! Slow cook the pigs cheeks and they are meltingly soft. 

Roast Guinea Fowl with Samphire, Gremolata and a Honey and Lemon Dressing
I love samphire with chicken & guineau fowl - the saltiness really seems to work, Samphire has life beyond fish dishes! There was also black pudding, orange, pickled cucumber and crackling. The honey & lemon is a nice light touch to the guineau fowl - you don't want too many heavy things I've found at the begining of a tasting menu. 
The honey & lemon dressing with Guineau Fowl was something I put together once on holiday in Venice - I even cook on holiday!

The red plates were a new find earlier that week. It was love at first sight!
Pavé of Halibut with Oxtail
Fish and meat.... together? For some this might seem an odd combination, but it's really an old French classic pairing. Maybe more like a marriage made in heaven - like the couple celebrating their 30th birthdays!

Also possibly my favourite dish I've done this year! The splat is the new swoosh, but, man it's so much more fun to do! 

It was butternut squash puree in case you're wondering. With a few sprouting lentils dotted around the place. 
Hendricks Gin and Tonic Sorbet
So the birthday girl is an absolute fan of Hendrick's gin and had seen the Hendrick's Gin and Tonic sorbet I had made for another party - so this just had to go on their menu somewhere. Sorbets can seem like a cop out on tasting menus I know, but it sure went down well, and at the end of the day, I'm all about giving people what they like!
Whole Fillet of Beef Wrapped in Wild Mushrooms and Rosemary

Rosemary Roast Whole Fillet of Beef, Rainbow Chard, Wild Mushrooms, Roast Garlic and Oxtail Jus
Luckily it was just the end of pumpkin season. Well, the sale season anyway. People are so fickle - they only seem to buy pumpkins around Hallowe'en time. Then all suppliers stop stocking them because noone wants to buy them. Don't they know how good they are?

These baby pumpkins were filled with rainbow chard - also in season at that time. and there are a few shallots and baby turnips there too. Taste city!

Cotswold Organic Brie baked in Brioche
Using Simon Weaver's Cotswold Brie - I've been to the farm where they make it. You have to dress up in a white coat & hat to go in. So I put some inside the brioche buns, but also a slice on the side - can never have enough brie!

To go with it there were some caramelised oranges I made, pickled figs and pickled cherries that I picked up from Upton Smokery a few days before, and just before I left for this party I found some barberries in the local Turkish shop - their acidity works really well with the brie I found.
Hmm, cheese course or dessert course first? The French would have the cheese first, the English would have the dessert first. On the night we actually went for the English way. 
Pressed Apple with Pistachio Crumble and Blackberry Sorbet
 Like apple and blackberry crumble, but lighter. Served with creme anglaise on the side. The apples are cooked in caramel like you do for tarte tatin and the crumble sprinkled on top. Gotta roll with the times!
Rose Flavoured Macarons
After coffee and rose macarons, it was just a matter of clearing up the kitchen. Really need to work on that self-cleaning kitchen invention.........


Your Christmas Day Lunch Delivered To Your Door In The Cotswolds

Friday, November 25, 2016
What do mean you haven't worked out who's cooking Christmas Lunch this year?!

Don't worry though - we've got that covered. Either delivered chilled on Christmas Eve with simple heating instructions for you to heat and serve yourselves, or you can relax with family and friends while our chefs and waiting staff cook and serve it up for you in your home on the day itself!.

Find more details here.
Trio of Fish Starters - Home Cured Salmon Gravadlax,, Smoked Halibut & Crayfish with Mango
We use Norfolk Black turkey which gives you a much better, almost gamey flavour, together with Gloucester Old Spot chipolatas and bacon. Maris Piper potatoes are roasted in goose fat and rosemary, and sprouts are cooked with chestnuts and bacon because everything tastes better with bacon, right? (vegetarian alternative also available). Parsnips are roasted with Cotswold Bees Borage Honey, and your turkey gravy is made from the turkey bones after we have de-boned all the Christmas turkeys. Everything is prepared for maximum flavour - just the way it has been for the last 10 years.
Homemade Christmas Pudding with Crystallised Redcurrants and Brandy Sauce
Our Christmas pudding is made from my Gran's old recipe which dates back at least 100 years - so it's well tried and tested, Not everyone is a Christmas pudding fan of course, so we also have other options for you.
But what will your guests think about you not slaving over a hot stove all day on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day morning? We have one regular client who passes our food off as her own to her guests - just transfers it to her own dishes. That's the way to do it - you deserve it!

Over the years we have done deliveries in the Bristol, Oxford, Worcester, Bath, Stratford-on-Avon, Cheltenham area. If you're around here at Christmas, we still have a few bookings left available - but get there quick before it's gone! Find out more and how to contact us here.

Churros and chocolate chilli torte for a Mexican theme menu in Bristol

Monday, November 07, 2016
This Mexican themed buffet was for a hen party back in August staying in this Magical Listed Townhouse in Bristol (it was magaical too.... and covered in Mexican theme party decorations). 

The organiser of that party had been a guest at another hen party themed menu we had catered for the previous year, and the organiser of that party had in turn been the guest at another party we had done the year before that - it's great when they all recommend us!
Churros with chocolate sauce - what could be better?
 As always, in all the flurry of cooking lots of different Mexican dishes there's an absence of starter and main course photos.
Chilli chocolate torte - suprisingly more popular that the churros that night. 


Caramelised Oxford Blue Cheese with Bacon Glazed Apples and Almond Butter

Thursday, November 03, 2016
Doesn't bacon make everything taste better? Is it wrong to put it on a cheese course after a(nother) 7 course tasting menu? Those 4 ingredients really were meant to be together though.......


Cerney Pyramid Goats Cheese with Honeycomb

This came at the end of a 7 course tasting menu earlier in the year. With so many courses less is best - portion size is everything. 

Serving cheese with honey is more of a continental thing. Shame - they go so well together, especially this Goats Cheese produced just outside Cirencester - not many miles from where we served it!
The honeycomb was a whole tray taken out of the hives at Upton Smokery. It made the ideal 'plate' to sit the cheese on. We did put a plate underneath however - you have to respect other people's tables! 


Hog Roast in Bishops Cleeve, near Cheltenham

Wednesday, November 02, 2016
A couple of years ago we catered for this couple's wedding. Now it was the then-bride's parents significant birthdays they wanted us back to cater for this event to be a hog roast and barbecue.

Gloucester Old Spot hog roast with Longhorn beef burgers and Gloucester Old Spot sausages - what a winning combination!

Because we're doing so many hog roasts now around the Cotswolds we now have our own double hog roast machine so we can cook 2 hogs at the same time feeding up to 400 + with a couple of legs put in there as well. And to serve it in we have our heavy duty gazebo. As good as the hog roast is, there's always some guests who like the old traditional Longhorn beef burgers and Gloucester Old Spot sausages, so we've added those in on a lot of pig roast events this summer too!

The venue was their virtually brand new office complex - a converted pub.

An office with it's own bar - some people's dream, right? None of the beer taps are connected - that's the only thing. Look good though. So the event took place in their field behind. I did get to try out their office oven though - the first time it had been used. Still all shiny and new - you don't see ovens like that very often!

Old prescription books from the clients' grandparents who found the pharmacy business - it's come a long way since then!


Halibut baked in salt crust

Wednesday, September 21, 2016
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.....


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

Tuesday, September 20, 2016
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!

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

Monday, September 19, 2016
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!

Rose scented macarons

Thursday, August 25, 2016
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

The first time I had lobster was in St. Ives in Cornwall, caught locally. The owner of the restaurant was quite fierce and didn't like younger generations making noise, but she let me in because she liked the look of my Chelsea boots.
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!
Native vs. Canadian lobsters
Always go for the native variety - normally from Scotland or Cornwall. Much better all round flavour and texture. 

Do lobsters scream when being plunged into boiling water?
Only in gifs. In reality if you do hear a 'scream' it's air escaping from the inside of the shell. 

Do you have to kill lobsters before you cook them?
If you try cooking dead lobsters (as in dead for a few hours), the flesh breaks down, becomes mushy and disintegrates when cooked - not good to eat. Bacteria works very quickly on lobsters once they die - and it's the bacterial growth which makes the flesh disintegrate. It can also lead to food poisoning. This is why they need to be cooked fresh - you have to respect your ingredients! 

There are humane ways to kill them just before cooking however: 
  • You can place them live in the freezer for 20 minutes prior to cooking to put them to sleep slowly before boiling. 
  • You can stun them before cooking (now required in Switzerland). A stun gun might set you back £2,500.
  • A cooks knife plunged into the head about 4cm down the head in one quick action.  
If you're grilling them, much to the horror of the waitresses you have to split the lobsters live and put them directly on to the grill pan.

Why is lobster tough?
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. It's even worse if they're left overnight in the fridge - then you might as well be eating rubber. This is why I would never suggest buying cooked lobster from a shop.  
It may also be that it's been overcooked. Like steak, you don't want to be overcooking your lobster. 

How to cook lobster
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. 

Boiling lobster? About 10 minutes for a 1 pound (half kilo) lobster. Lots of salt in the water to bring out the flavour of the lobster flesh. 

Let it cool down slightly before cracking the shell. Don't plunge it into cold water - I've found the lobster flesh sticks to the shell, so when you crack the shell the flesh can tear apart. 

Grilled lobster
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!


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

Monday, January 11, 2016
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?


Special birthday dinner party catering in Blockley, Gloucestershire.

Sunday, January 10, 2016
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.