Archive | Amuse – Bouche

Recipe | Venison Scotch egg

My Fair Lady meets Braveheart

From an early age much of my time has been spent on and off stage so I’m well aware of what it takes to make a production run smoothly. All going well on the face of it we see the actors entering and exiting at the appropriate moments,  impressively and seamlessly remembering their lines (we hope) and brilliantly drawing us into their world.   What we tend to forget as an audience member however is how much work has to go on backstage to achieve all this.

People have been working tirelessly on costumes, props and  scenery.  Directors, musicians , techies and other crew have all shed blood, sweat and probably tears to get the show on the road and not to mention the gentle cajoling , ego massaging, support and camaraderie that has gone on to hold it all together by everyone.

What has all this got to do with venison sausage rolls I hear you ask?! And how can she possibly link this thespian theme to her latest job cooking for a Highland partridge shoot? Well…

Up on the Cawdor estate near Inverness, it’s hard not to get drawn into a dramtic mood, not least because it is the home of the Scottish Play (or Macbeth for those of you who are less superstitious). Add 42,000 acres of extraordinary Highland landscape, endlessly changing light, some of the best field sport in the country and boundless amounts of fresh air and you can understand how one can easily become theatrical. 2017-01-20_0002

Shoot jobs are always busy as there are a lot of hungry men (and more and more so women) to feed.  Despite November being quite late in the season to still be eating outside the group was game to have their lunches up on ‘the hill’, the in the know term for on the moor.

I am always delighted to to be heading out on these adventures, braving the elements, dirt tracks and overcoming the challenges of transporting and serving a top not lunch to the middle of nowhere. The shooting crowd are definitely a set who love their food so ones efforts to go all out are always appreciated.

As the chef your day starts early in the lodge kitchen doing a big cooked breakfast and preparing the elevenses baskets for the game keeper to takeaway for the gun’s mid morning snack. Once breakfast is cleared away the preparing and packing up of a top notch lunch to be served way up on the hill can begin.

Food has to be carefully packed along with tables, tablecloths, plates, candles if the day is dark, flowers, wine (of course) and fire wood into the trusty Range Rover and driven across narrow bridges, winding tracks across babbling burns and reversed down slippery paths to a bothy hidden in the depths of the moor. Undoubtedly more fun than an office job I imagine.  Once there, everything is unloaded come rain or shine or wind (though often in Scotland a bit of all three) and set up, the wood burner lit, hot soup made ready to serve and the wine opened in anticipation for the arrival of the hungry and often cold and wet guns.

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On one of the days on our way to the bothy we had to pause on the hill as the beaters (people with flags energetically waving them on command whilst walking down a hill to flush the birds towards the guns and not Harry Potter like children on broom sticks playing quidditch), were making their sweep ahead of us.

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Turning on our radio to the channel that the head  keeper and beaters were using we received  instructions to wait there for a wee while longer.  Not wanting to scare the birds off course we switched off the engine and due to our remote location and therefore lack of signal to Radio 4, listened into the “ backstage” working of the shoot.

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Like a director of an enormous production (think Aida on a Verona scale) the head Game keeper directs his backstage crew to flush the actors (partridge in this case) onto the stage (the area surrounding the pegs) where the eager audience (the guns) get to take their shot.

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In this case however the actors (partridge) are more temperamental than the worst of divas and it takes great skill and combined effort to get them to fly where and when you want them.

Listening to the instructions was a bit like listening to the shipping forecast, you enjoy it and are strangely addicted but don’t quite understand all that is said.  None the less it was hard not to get swept up in the team effort of getting the birds in the right place and the building excitement of whether it would pay off.

“ Flag up, flag up !!!!! “ was repeated many times and moments later a flurry of flag waving from the guys and girls on the hill.

“I canny see Eion , get oot ‘o the gulley” !! also seemed to be a popular communication.

The crackly line coupled with the heavy Scottish accents meant I couldn’t follow the script exactly but the most entertaining moment was when one group of partridge was spotted flying too far left, the beaters were directed to reposition themselves sharpish to correct the flight path and I distinctly heard in My Fair Lady meets Braveheart style from one of the keepers:

“ come on…come on!…come on !! …come on Beaters, move yer bloomin’ arse!” .

The ripple of gun fire a moment later indicated the move was successful and that the guys on the hill had done a good job. Then came the sound of the horn indicating the end of the drive and our cue to get a move on to the bothy to set up lunch.

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During a lunch the game keeper will inform the head of the party their current bird count ( bag), if their booked number has already been met and if it has if they would like to carry on, for a second act.  Invariably  the answer is yes, unless the weather has turned really foul, so once the feast is finished they all had back out for a few more drives.

At the end of the shoot day, once the show is over, everyone returns back to the lodge and the day’s bag is laid out for the count. The beaters, dog handlers, game keepers and guns gather round for a wee dram and exchange highlights and tales of the day and it is at this point that the backstage crew can take their bow and be thanked for a tremendous show.

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For this postcard I want to share with you my new favourite snack I like to make for the elevenses basket namely venison scotch eggs.  To qualify for a good elevenses shoot snack the food has to be able to survive  transportation, easy to eat with one hand, hearty and  suitable for ketchup or Tabasco (that’s a must according to Lord L who apparently is a connoisseur when it comes to elevenses).

Scotch eggs are totally worth making from scratch as you can get the eggs perfectly cooked ( unlike the obligatorily over cooked shop bought ones)  and the meat perfectly seasoned.

These Venison ones have the advantage that the meat is known to be full of minerals and iron and is low fat.. which in my book translates as you don’t have to feel so guilty about scoffing a whole one.  I have to say on a personal note that when Lord L is not looking you should also try it with crab apple jelly as its mix of tart and sweetness pairs beautifully with game flavours.

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This week

Best bag: 434

Best Bag: Bottega Veneta

Every home should have: A piper

I used : 94 local eggs

Butter usage : off the charts

I’m driving : a Range Rover

 

 

Venison Scotch Eggs

Makes 8

800g venison mince

2 slices white bread

10 eggs

splash of milk

200g bread crumbs ( panko are the best) placed in a small bowl

100g cornflour, placed in a small bowl.

1 litre veg oil for frying

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Bring a pan of salted water to the boil.

Gently plop 8 eggs in and cook on a high heat for 7 minutes.

Gently drain and fill the pan with cold water and a few handfuls of ice.

Once the eggs are cool peel them.

In a large bowl season the venison mince with salt and pepper.

Break the bread into bits, crust and all, and splash on some milk and 1 raw egg. Mush about then mix well into the mince ( if you are feeling fancy you can add 2 cloves finely ground clove and 1 tbs of finely chopped parsley but for me home made venison scotch egg is excitement enough).

Take 1/8 of the mince and wrap around 1 of the cooked eggs. It is easier if your hands are wet.

Repeat with the other eggs.

Then break the last egg into a bowl and add a splash of milk and beat. 

Dip each of the meat wrapped eggs into the cornflour, then egg mix then breadcrumbs.

It is less messy if you dip every egg into the cornflour, then every egg into the egg, then finally the breadcrumbs otherwise you end up with breaded fingers.

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Pre heat the oven to 200°C

Heat your oil in a deep pan, When hot ( a small lump of bread when dropped in should go brown and crispy in seconds) fry the eggs individually until golden ( a minute or so) then lay on a flat baking tray nicely spread apart.

Once they have all been fried, bake in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes.

Remove and transfer onto a wire rack to cool a little.

Eat warm or cold as the perfect elevenses snack.

 

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Next Stop …Thanksgiving

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Recipe | Deep fried Wild Garlic flowers

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Fashion flower…

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The fashion shoot really whizzed by in a flash. The days were long but fun and everyone was on constant alert in case they were needed. The stoves in the kitchen fired up around 430 am in order to make first breakfasts for the cast and crew before they had to venture to the chilly outside to make the most of the amazing morning light. Like hobbits (all be it very super, tall and beautiful ones) they would return a few hours later for second breakfast and a rest before lunch and then head back out for more shooting. They would all start to pile back in for tea time around 5pm and spend a few hours tying up jobs from the day and prepping for the next before tucking in to a late supper.

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It amuses me that when I tell people I am off to cook for a fashion shoot every one always assumes its all about lettuce leaves and the trendiest grain of the moment (I believe we are meant to be still obsessed with teff) but I can tell you the early morning bacon butties were immensely popular although power balls once again seemed to be in high demand.

They also assume that the crowd will all be rather high maintenance and requests like “Go and find 48 local blue flamingos, quick!” or “ Love the mountain in the back drop but can you just move it 3 meters to the left?” would not be uncommon but in my experience everyone is super organised, reasonable and works their socks off!

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Once the shoot was over I headed home for a few days where the garden was putting on an outrageously beautiful fashion show, declaring big, bright and blousy was in.

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In the food world although ingredients aren’t quite so subject to going in and out of fashion they certainly can come quickly in and out of season.

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For this postcard recipe I wanted to make sure we were all making the most of the wild garlic. Like many spring ingredients the season is short so we have to make the most of it and although the leaves may be past their best the flowers still make delicious eating.

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This Week

Power balls consumed: 178

In fashion: Wild garlic flowers

Out of fashion: sleeping

I’m driving: Evoque Range Rover

New Facebook videos on top tips and trends from a private chef: 2

 

Deep fried wild garlic flowers

This makes a tasty pre dinner nibble with a glass or two of fizz but would also work well as part of a main dish for fish or meat.

Serves 5 as a pre dinner nibble.

10 wild garlic heads

5 tbs plain flour

1 level tsp. baking powder

200ml approx. chilled beer

1 lemon

Oil for deep-frying.

Cut the stalks so they are about 2 inches long

In a bowl whisk the flour and baking powder with a pinch of salt the slowly pour in the beer, whisking continually, until you have reached the consistency of a loose double cream.

Dip the flower heads in the batter, shake off the excess, and then fry for 10 – 15 seconds until they go golden.  

Carefully remove and drain on kitchen paper.

Sprinkle with salt and add a little squeeze of lemon, eat instantly.

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Next Stop, Salmon Fishing in the Highlands….

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Singapore swing

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Singapore swing

Jet lag? Ha ! After a 13 hour flight, when I had planned to snooze but managed to turn it into a movie marathon I landed in time to see Singapore in the midst of waking up and swinging into life.

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Singapore is the ultimate melting pot, with food and other cultural influences from Malaysia, Indonesia , China, India, Peranakan (locally born but descendants of mostly Malay immigrants who married local women) and Eurasians.

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With no better way to stay awake then amuse myself with food markets I dropped my bags and headed straight for Little India.

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Starting in the Tekka Centre in the area of Little India, a wet market (fresh food) with Hawkers centres ( communal eating spaces spattered with a range of incredibly cheap and delicious fast food outlets, it was immediately apparent I was not in Kansas/Dorset any more.

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Exotic and colourful looking vegetables and fruits caught my eye at every stall, fish and crustaceans I had never seen were boxed on ice and been sold at rapid speeds and the smells of spices and foods that shouted ‘you are in the far East’ distracted me at every turn. Yes, I loved it! No prizes for which culture Little India centres on but perhaps a free cake for anyone who can identify all of the below.

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Come lunchtime, although I didn’t think I was ready to eat (it would have been around 3 am back in Blighty) I didn’t want to miss a food opportunity so slipped into a recommended Indian restaurant. When unsure of protocol whilst travelling it is always best to hang back a bit, see what locals do, then have a go. So having loitered for a bit I bustled into the restaurant, headed to the back to wash my hands then grabbed a table. Luckily for my experience enjoyment I was then joined at my communal table by 3 locals an Uncle, niece and friend who clearly saw I was not from around there so gave me the low down on what was good and then decided to order for me. A large tray lined with a banana leaf arrived with a lentil dahl, a spinach dish and some pickle. Quickly a waiter came and added a mound of steaming white rice to it ( none of that supposedly healthy brown stuff we seem to be focusing on in the UK thank you very much). Then another waiter came round with buckets of soupy looking stuff that they then artfully throw onto your leaf. This was all very exciting apart from I was slightly concerned that here you authentically eat with your right hand (never your left as that’s for loo duties) and I was of course keen to try. Watching the others I dived in and yes it was messy (well I was in compared to them) but it’s a powerful way to connect with your food. There was also a super tasty shark curry, a chicken one and a salty refreshing drink made form curd but for fear of turning this into a war and peace length postcard I will suffice with saying they too were all delicious.

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The next day was more about the Chinese markets but this time I was lucky enough to go with a friend who knew what they were doing, seeing and buying.

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Stacks of different greens, all sounding slightly similar so not a chance I could ever repeat their names, bags of dried fish, mushrooms and innards, that are used to flavour soup and another stretch of exciting hawker stalls selling delicious dumplings, breads, fried delights, rice, noodles, roasted ducks and more all were a joy to encounter.

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Keen to get into the kitchen to get to work with some of these ingredients we choose a selection of Eastern delights and headed home. This postcard recipe is for the lotus root fritters I made that evening.

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This Week

Every home should have: Air conditioning and lots of fridge space.

I’m loving : the energy of the East.

Butter used : 2 packs (pretty impressive since they don’t really go in for that sort of thing here.

I’ve tried : 27 new foods.

Im travelling by :plane, taxi, MRT

Its: hot and humid (just though I would mention it as apparently quite cold at present back home :).

I got: caught in the afternoon down pours… twice.

I learnt in time : when making meringue in hot and humid clients, so it doesn’t collapse and become sticky, you need to cook it for longer and lower as well as adding a few tbs of icing sugar to the mix.

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Lotus fritters

These make great little pre dinner nibbles. You can make the mix an hour or two in advance and then fry them when needed.

Makes about 40.

4 Chinese dried black mushrooms (if you cant get these you could use a few fresh oyster mushrooms and fry them with the onions)

1 tbs olive oil

1 red onion peeled and finely chopped

2 garlic cloves peeled and finely chopped

1 x yam (about 800g in weight )

20g coriander, washed, dried and finely chopped.

4 spring onions finely chopped

1 finger of garlic , peeled and finely grated.

1 tbs sesame oil

1 tbs light soy sauce plus extra for serving

2 eggs lightly beaten

2 tbs corn flour

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To cook

2 – 3 tbs sunflower oil

To serve

1 x lime

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Soak the mushrooms in just boiled water for at least 30 mins (they are quite tough so need a long time to soak) then remove the stalks and finely chop them ( you can use the tougher stalks to flavour soups or stocks).

Fry the onion and garlic in a pan with the olive oil on a low heat until just softened.

Peel and grate, on the large side, the lotus root.

In a large bowl mix everything together.

To cook: heat a frying pan with a little sunflower oil, In batches dollop teaspoon size mounds of the mix into the pan and fry both sides on a low to medium heat for about 1 minute each side.

Lay onto kitchen paper then serve warm.

To serve: sprinkle with a little extra soy and a squeeze of lime.

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Next stop… Hong Kong.

 

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Recipe | Smoked prawn with avocado crostini

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Prawn on the Fourth of July

If you think the British are obsessed by the weather you should talk to a Bostonian. Throughout the year they get it all from heavy snow, storms and high winds to bright blue skies and sunshine. I guess  as lots of people are boat and or fish orientated it’s natural the weather will be of constant interest.

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‘People say that if you don’t love America, then get the h**l out, well I love America!’ (Tom Cruise and Philippa Davis)

I arrived to dark skies, rain and in need of a jumper. I could have stayed in Blighty for this, I thought, but with everyone cheerful the sun would come out tomorrow, I settled into my new home for the next few weeks.   The next day… oh boy did the sun come out and then set with the most theatrical display.

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The first big party we held was July 4th celebrations; we had 35 adults and about a dozen kids coming. I decided to tone down my English accent for the day, though I did sneak in a very English dessert of Eton mess into the menu. For mains, as its all about lobster here, we decided on roasting 37 of them and smoking 20 lb of baby back (pork) ribs. It was truly a veritable feast!

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The party was a wild success with kids and adults all tucking into the sweet buttery crustaceans and getting messy with the ribs. Desserts were practically all demolished (haha!) and at around 10 the fireworks of Boston and the surrounding towns started popping up into the sky. To go with this, the amazing Boston Pops orchestra broadcasts live with a program including the Indiana Jones theme tune, the 1812 and of course Stars and Stripes. We thought the party might wind down post fire works but there was a sudden second wind and the left over ribs got raided from the fridge and were totally scoffed.

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With the ribs taken care of the only thing I still had to deal with was the left over lobster. Last time I got my hand on this many I made enough stock to fill a bathtub, though frankly it wasn’t totally to my liking. This year, having picked off the last of the lobster meat with some help from half a team of Ivy League Football players 😉 I gathered my buckets of shells and had another go. The trick is to bring the stock to a boil with the shells in, cook for 30 – 40 mins, strain it and then reduce the stock down. If you leave the shells in too long the stock goes very bitter. The stock was/ is delicious (I have 20 litres to use up) so I am planning lots of lobster flavoured soups, bisques, paellas and risottos. That or a fishy bath.

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On a none food note I watched my first cherry stone spitting competition and putting it politely I couldn’t quite believe the diversity of peoples ability. As soon as I got home I grabbed a bowl of cherries and headed to the bottom of the garden to try it for myself, turns out, I have a new skill.

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This week

Lobsters massacred: 52

‘Have a nice days’ I have been wished : 31

Cherry stone distance personally spat : 5.5m

I’m reading: The Lobster, Guillaume Lecasble

4am texts from my least/most favourite sister who keeps forgetting I’m in a different time zone: 5

 

 

Smoked prawn with avocado and chilli crostini.

 Its hard not to get obsessed about smoking, the results are delicious but there is something primal and wildly rewarding in the skill it takes to get it right. From making ones own salt rubs and bbq sauces to taming the heat and perfecting the amount of smoke.

So for this postcard recipe I will share with you one of my new favourite foods to smoke – prawns.

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We served this as an ‘appetiser’ on July 4th.

You will need a smoker, lump wood charcoal, and wood chips like apple and hickory.

 

Makes 20 crostini

20 large raw peeled prawns

2 tbs olive oil

200g butter melted

 

Rub

4 tsp fine sea salt

3 tsp brown sugar

2 tsp sweet paprika

1 tsp cayenne pepper

 

Avocado

2 ripe avocados

1 small clove garlic

2 tbs olive oil

2 tsp chopped green chilli

juice from 1 lime

2 tbs. chopped coriander

 

To serve

1 loaf ciabatta

Extra sprigs of coriander

Squeeze of extra lime juice.

 

Mix the prawns with the olive oil

Mix the rub ingredients together then toss through the prawns with 2 tbs olive oil, leave for 30 mins.

 

Meanwhile light your smoker and get it to reach 200 °F

 

Once at temperature, lay a large piece of foil shiny side down, tip on the prawns (discarding any juice that may come out of them) then pour over the melted butter. Add your chips to the coals and close the lid. Smoke for 30 – 40 mins , they should be cooked and smokey.

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You can eat then warm or leave them to cool.

 

To make the avocado spread,

Peel and de-stone the avocado and roughly chop, add the rest of the ingredients and season with salt and pepper.

 

To serve toast the ciabatta, smear with the avocado mix and top with a smoked prawn. Squeeze over a little extra lime and garnish with a leaf of coriander

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Next week, unfortunately for the lobsters, I’m sticking around…

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Recipe | Thai flavoured chicken and sesame balls

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The Thigh who came in from the cold..

Having recently been on quite a few flights I realise you don’t have to be in Sherlock’s league to decipher the purpose of everyone’s trip.  For instance:

-Dublin to London early morning flights to City airport are full of suits, ties and busy Blackberries off to seal their deals (though afternoon City flights are full of suits, no ties and a few empty miniature bottles).

-London to Inverness flights are full of well spoken tweeds, Barbours’and swathes of cashmere off to inspect their Highland acreages.

-February half term flights are packed with stressed out parents, grunting teenagers and excited children, with at least 5 layers on who tend to waddle round like sweet little star fish, all off to clog the Alpine slopes.

In my experience this makes security very slow as everyone has to peel off their various coats and jackets to go through the scanners then put them all back on again. I think the game is to wear as much as possible in order to keep the weight of the  checked-in bag under 15Kg.  To be fair to parents probably to get a child dressed once a day is stressful enough, let alone having to do it twice and in a busy airport .

However it all seems worthwhile when you get to the end of the journey and you see the first glimpse of those beautiful snowy mountains.  Which for me this week were the ones surrounding Tignes in the French Alps.

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I was working on behalf of the delightful company Bramble Ski, who although mainly based in Switzerland and Austria, are now venturing into France and have snapped up the lushest chalets in the Tignes resort.

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Tignes is not perhaps the most beautiful of  ski resorts, there are a fair few 60s/70s/80s monster builds, but the new chalets and hotels are all very attractive and more importantly to the keen skier, there is a fantastic expanse of skiing area, pretty much guaranteed snow and high chance of one of the longest seasons in the Alps.

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The job began with a mammoth shop in Bourg St Maurice, a town  just below Tignes, where my chalet host had to patiently wait for 3 hours as my bus from Lyon got caught in every traffic jam going that day.  Having spoken to the clients about their food preferences before leaving Blighty I had a rough idea what to cook for the week but bearing in mind that you are heading up to 2000metres and despite knowing there will be a few small shops for emergencies, you are never quite sure what you will find.  You have to be super organised and prepared… and depending on your idea of fun it can be a bit of a struggle lugging shopping around in blizzards and on ice rink like pavements once there.

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The food as you can imagine for such an action packed holiday needs to be nourishing and energy boosting.  There is a definite trend however by day three having had a few croissant breakfasts, hearty mountain lunches (often involving cream, butter and excellent fries) and some 5 course evening meals, clients are crying out for something lighter and I note don’t make it through to the cheese board.  Then by the end of the week, maybe through exhaustion, hunger levels are back up and there is a final push to make it thorough the canapés, starter, main, dessert and the cheese board after their final days skiing.

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This postcard recipe is based on a canapé idea given to me form the chef from the adjoining chalet, who came out for the busy half term week.  The thai flavours really do pack a punch and they have a fantastically light texture.  You can replace the chicken with raw fish.

 

This week;

Job high: 2000 metres

Job low: not being able to get out and ski on some cracking sunny days

Milk drunk: 14 litres (there were quite a few ‘petits enfant’)!

Pain au chocolat to croissant ratio : 2:1.

Altitude baking disasters that had to be discarded: 1

New canapés added to repertoire :3

Abominable snowmen avoided : 3

 

Thai flavoured Chicken sesame balls

 

Two raw free range/ organic chicken thighs

10 g green chilli with seeds and membrane

15g ginger

15 spring onion

1 garlic glove

1 egg white

20g coriander (stalks and leaves)

2 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp sesame oil

50 g of toasted sesame seeds

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1)Place everything (apart from the sesame seeds) into a food processor and blitz till a paste (about 2 minutes).

2)Spoon out into a bowl and form into 16 small balls.

3)Roll the balls in the sesame seeds and pop them onto a baking tray.

4)Place in the fridge for 30 mins or until ready to use ( you can make a day in advance).

When ready to eat

5)Pre heat the oven to 180°C then bake for 15 mins or until cooked through and piping hot in the middle.

6)To serve squeeze  a little lime juice over each one, and place on a skewer topped with a coriander leaf.

 

(You could also make this into a main course and serve with fried garlic and soy rice and greens).

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I’m here for another week so will be whisking up more Alpine postcard recipes for you to try…

 

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Recipe | Deep fried zucchini flowers with Prosecco batter, stuffed with ricotta, mint and anchovies

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The Italian Job…

The Tuscan hills bulged like the limbs of a Botticelli woman. The roads delightfully twisted through these curves and I noted to myself that next time when taking a job here I would write in my contract that I needed to do the shopping in a Ferrari. A red one.

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The job for the week was to cook for 18 fun loving individuals that had flown in from all corners of the globe to celebrate a milestone birthday. They had taken a large villa plopped reclusively on top of one of these voluptuous hills with only a discreet track lined with Cyprus trees marking its whereabouts. Well that was my sat nav’s excuse for getting confused.  With temperatures dallying around 30°C and the prospect of shopping at Italian local markets for a group that were ‘game to eat anything’ I was very much looking forward to my week’s work.

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On the first evening, one of the guests bounced into the kitchen just as I had started frying the sage leaves in butter for their saltimbocca to enquire,

“Was I into cocktail making?”

“Indeed I am,” I said.

So with the house being equipped with a full-on professional bar I happily got shaking. Now, I know there is some weird and wonderful mixology going on out there like drinks made from ‘smoked rabbits breath’ or ‘dehydrated  Louboutin sole dust’  but whenever I try one of these new concoctions I always wish I had just chosen a classic. With this in mind, the ones I whizzed up during the week were all traditional, including some unashamedly girly Cosmopolitans, zingy Mojitos and very American Long Island Iced Teas.

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As always, before the job began I had discussed with the client what they loved, hated and how they wanted the week to be. We got as far as ‘Italian’ and stopped there. This is the perfect job brief for whenever you venture somewhere new you never quite know what you are going find. I have definitely found the best way to plan a menu is to go to the shops/markets, see what looks best and then decide what’s for dinner.  As they mentioned they ‘eat anything’ I noted on my first shopping trip that 4th stomach of the cow seemed plentiful, maybe I should try them on my Florentina tripa recipe… but perhaps that was a little daring for the first night.

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Anyone who has experienced food shopping in Italy will realise that produce, even in the local supermarket, is generally superb, very seasonal and almost entirely centered around traditional Italian ingredients. It will probably be hard finding ingredients like limes and coriander but there will be six different types of ricotta and five varieties of aubergines to choose from.   I’m not sure I would enjoy this pure approach all the time but when in Rome (or Tuscany as it happens) I love it.

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By day two I had scoured most of the local shops and sussed out what was looking good so I could plan the food for the weeks main party. The menu was as follows;

 

Aperitvio

Aperol Spritz/ Peach Bellinis

Rosemary arancini with spiced tomato sauce

 

Prima

Fried zucchini flowers stuffed with sheep ricotta, anchovies and pine nuts

 

Secondo

Florentine steaks

Grilled Bream with chili sauce

 

Contorno

Fresh Borlotti beans with herbs and balsamic

 

Insalata

 Grilled radicchio, hazelnut pesto and rocket.

 

Dolce

Peach, amaretto and almond tart with salted caramel ice cream

 

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The rest of the week consisted of long lunches, more evening feasts and plenty of swims in the pool (the guests not me).  Then all too quickly Sunday came, my bags were packed and the sat nav set for Florence airport. I weaved my way back to the UK and got ready to cook for my next job, a fashion shoot in the Scottish Highlands.

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 This week’s stats:

Cocktails shaken: 165

Transport: A red Ferrari (trapped in a Peugeot 206 body).

Every home should have: A Sonos music system and a Teriyaki grill.

Borlotti beans podded: 556

Chianti drunk : too discreet to say

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Deep fried zucchini flowers with prosecco batter, stuffed with sheep ricotta, anchovies and pine nuts

Serves 4 as a starter

You may think it is extravagant using prosecco in a batter when you could substitute sparkling water but its not like I used a Don Perignon 1995. No, that was a totally different party and recipe….

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Ingredients

8 Flowers (As a starter you probably want 2 each)

Stuffing Ingredients

2 tbs pinenuts toasted and roughly chopped

8 dessertspoons of ricotta

3 anchovies fillets finely chopped

2 tbs chopped mint

zest of 1 lemon

Batter

200g self raising flour

1 egg

450ml Proseccco.

1 litre sunflower oil

To serve 2 tbs runny honey

In a bowl mix the stuffing ingredients and season with salt and pepper

Carefully spoon the mix into the zucchini flower heads (A teaspoon works best) then seal back up the flower by pressing the petals to the ricotta mix you just put inside. (You don’t want it bulging with ricotta mix, about 2 or 3 teaspoons for each flower depending on size should be perfect).

They can be left in the fridge all day if prepared in advance but I would bring them out around 1 hour before being fried so they are not really chilled right through.

Make the batter about 1 hour before using by:

In a large bowl add the flour.

Crack the egg in the middle then start adding the prosecco until you have a smooth batter (about the consistency of double cream).

Leave the batter at room temperature until ready to use.

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To fry, the oil needs to be about 3 inches deep so if you don’t have a deep fat fryer and are using a saucepan bare this in mind.   Heat the oil up to about 190 °C or so that when you drop a few blobs of batter it immediately sizzles.

Get ready a plate ready lined with some kitchen paper and a slotted metal spoon that you can fish the frying flowers out of the oil with.

When the oil is hot give the batter one more quick whisk then carefully fully dip the stuffed flowers in the batter.   Pull out of the batter and let the excess drip back into the bowl then carefully slip into the oil.

They will take about 2 minutes to fry and might need gently turning over as they tend to roll onto one side. You can cook about 3 or 4 at once.

Remove from the batter and transfer to the paper.

While still hot transfer to the serving plate, drizzle with honey then serve.

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Recipe|Crab cakes with chilli sauce

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Feeling crabby ?

I have just come back from cooking for a delightful dinner party in the magical city of Edinburgh. Having recently made quite a few trips here I have to admit I am falling for its charms. Effortlessly classy and littered with magnificent pieces of architecture it really is a grand place. The dinner was for 18 guests and was being held just because the hosts felt like throwing a party for their friends! My day started early as I had to drive into Edinburgh and I wasn’t sure what the traffic would be like, luckily my biggest obstacle seemed to be getting out of the drive…

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The days menu read as follows…

 

Nibbles

Mini crab cakes with chili sauce

Red radish with butter and salt

 Roast cherry tomato, mozzarella and hazelnut pesto crostini

Black olive and anchovy tapenade with oregano crostini

Pea, pecorino and mint crostini

Smoked salmon with warm blini with sour cream and mock caviar

 

Main

Rare roast fillet of beef with freshly grated horseradish mixed with crème fraiche and yogurt 

Goose fat roast potatoes with new season’s garlic and rosemary

Green lentils with mustard and soft herbs

Roast beetroots and carrots with thyme and butter

Vignole  –  asparagus, artichokes and peas cooked in white wine, pancetta and mint.

Green salad with rocket, baby gem, linseed, herbs and French dressing

Dessert

Gooseberry and meringue ice cream

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There is a definite trend of changing the format of dinner parties. I find a surprising number of clients are keen to move away from sitting at the table for hours and labouring their way through countless courses. Instead more canapés /amuse bouches are being ordered and eaten with the pre dinner drinks, the starter skipped altogether and the main course to be served help yourself style to suit everyone’s portion control ideas. I personally think both the formal sit down and this more casual approach can work really well, but it’s about knowing your guests and how relaxed you want the occasion to be.

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For this postcard recipe I will share with you one of the pre dinner nibbles that went like hot cakes… well they were actually hot cakes with crab and chilli sauce. They make a super tasty nibble or you can up the size and serve it as a starter or main course with some salad and coleslaw.

 

On another note….

 

The Observer Magazine has launched their 2014 food awards, with a category for Best UK based Food Blog. I would be delighted if you fancied voting for me and philippadavis.com. Voting can be done on line at http://www.theguardian.com/observer-food-monthly-awards   you can vote by:

1)registering your email with the Guardian

2) via a face book account

3)with a google+ account.

 

Many thanks to anyone who feels compelled to do this!

 

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I am now re -packing for sunnier climes and skipping off to the south of France to cook down near the Camargue…

 

Crab cakes with Chilli Sauce

Chilli Sauce

1 red chilli

½ tspn sherry vinegar

½ tsp cumin

1 tsp finely chopped coriander

1 tsp olive oil

1)Finely chop the chilli (discarding the seeds)

2)Mix in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients and season with salt and pepper.

This can be made at least several hours in advance or until you are ready to serve the crab cakes.

Crab cakes

Makes 12 bite sized crab cakes or 4 big ones

40g breadcrumbs
½ tsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp white pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of paprika
2 tbsp parsley finely chopped
250g white crabmeat, in chunks
1 egg, beaten
Plain Flour, to coat
Vegetable oil, to cook

1)Put the breadcrumbs, mustard powder, seasoning and parsley in a bowl and stir well to combine. Add the crab and stir gently

2)Add the egg and mix

3)Roll into balls then flatten gently into disks (they may seem a little fragile but they will firm up a bit and seem to hold together when cooked).

4)Chill for 30 minutes.

5)In a frying pan set on a medium heat add 1 tbs vegetable oil. Fry the cakes till lightly browned each side and hot all the way through ( about 1 1/2 minutes each side).

Serve immediately with a ¼ tsp of chili sauce on top of each and garnish with a small rocket leaf for a flash of colour.

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Recipe | Fig, feta and spinach fataya with honey and mint yogurt

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Starting the party…

Friday, 8:30 pm. Outside the dining table is adorned with vases of mint and lavender, flickering candles, gleaming cutlery and beautiful French linen.  Long shadows are cast across the olive grove as the last of the evening sun casts a pink haze over the Alpilles hills and the indefatigable cigals provide the music of Provence. The guests are about to arrive.  Snapping out of the dreamy bliss that this kind of setting lulls you into, party season here has definitely kicked in and the food has been flying out the kitchen.

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The evenings menu read as follows;

Amuse-bouche

Garden fig, spinach and feta fataya with honey and mint yogurt

Starter

Salad of pan fried quail breast with toasted hazelnuts, apricots, chicory and sherry vinegar.

Main

Grilled whole bream with roast potatoes, fennel, black olives, aubergine and rosemary.

Cheese

 with fig jam and walnuts

Dessert

Apple sorbet served with shots of chilled French gin.

 

 

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Most gatherings start with a bottle or two of delicious local rosé (Mas de la Dame and Domaine Guilbert being two of my current favourites) along with a little something to nibble.  I am not sure how I feel about the word canapé, taken from the French word “couch”, I much prefer amuse-bouche, to amuse the mouth, for me a much more appealing thought. Before becoming a private chef I never gave much thought to these pre dinner snacks.  In the restaurants I worked they were generally not required and I rarely go to the sort of function where they would be served. Although I did go to one at Nobu where sensational platters of sushi were brought out. Myself and a chef friend promptly placed ourselves strategically  by the kitchen doors to get first dabs and so of course failed to do any networking but did get a veritable feast.

 

 

Now I find a certain amusement in thinking about and creating them.  Its hard to be original and there are some classics that truly are delicious when well executed; smoked salmon blinis, raw oysters, devils on horseback and so on but as variety is the spice of life I am always looking for new ideas.

 

Duck eggs and celery salt ( the duck eggs were a delightful gift to the hostess and swiftly got eaten)

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Hummus with crudités and poppyseed crisp bread, potted trout with toast 2013-08-08_0001

For small parties I quite like something that needs a little explaining or has some personal touch like produce that has been picked from the garden.  I have been playing around with fillings for the Lebanese fataya and as we have an abundance of figs to use I made a very popular fig, spinach and feta variety with mint and honey yogurt (recipe below) .  The garden has also been producing an abundance of courgettes along with their flowers which have been making a few appearances pre dinner.

Young courgette batons deep fried with chilli, mint and vinegar ( served on the F.T. market dependant)

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Courgette flowers with ricotta, honey and mint.

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A fine way to start the evening, along with a glass or two of the ubiquitous Rosé.

 

Finishing the evening with another flourish after dessert can be dangerously close to over kill, however a little something with your coffee or vervain tea can also be a delight.  Chocolate is an obvious choice. In St Remy there is the renowned chocolatier Joël Durand and his chocolate alphabet collection. Personally I am not sure if I have met anyone I liked enough to share a box of these with, they are so good. Instead my favourite finale at present is 3 gently toasted almonds discreetly placed on the saucer and a sharing bowl of juicy iced cherries.  So when the last cigale has finally stopped chirping and the cigars are lit everyone feels well and truly replete.

 

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Fig, spinach and feta fataya with honey and mint yogurt

 

Fataya dough

White Bread flour, 250g

dried yeast, 7g

warm water, 150ml

fine sea salt, a pinch

olive oil, 1tbsp

Mix the flour, yeast, salt and oil in bowl, add the water and knead until smooth (about 8  to 10 mins) leave to prove until doubled in size ( it will take about one hour)

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Filling

Spinach, 150g

Finely diced white onion,1

feta crumbled, 1oog

Ripe figs, 2

Slowly fry the onion in 1 tbsp olive oil until lightly cloloured and sweet. Add the spinach and cook till wilted. Drain off any excess liquid. Chop the figs and add to the spinach along with the crumbled  feta.  Season with salt and pepper.

When the dough is ready, divide it into 12 equal (ish) balls. Roll them out into disks and brush with water, place a dollop of the fig mix in the centre then bring together into a triangle. I snip the corners to stop from getting an overload of bread.

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Place on a lightly floured baking sheet and bake in a 180 c oven for 12 – 15 mins until golden.Serve warm with a yogurt and honey dip.

Yogurt dip

3 tbs plain yogurt

1 tsp runny honey

4 mint leaves finely chopped.

Mix all the ingredients and pour into a small bowl for serving.

 

 

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