Archive | Main Course

Recipe | Venison pasties

Its raining……nothing.

Skiing, when snowfall has been, poor gets rather tricky. Beach holidays without the sun are pretty miserable. Camping in torrential rain is not much fun ( well actually camping in any weather is not my idea of fun) and fishing weeks without water are impossible.   So when I headed up to the beats on the river Findhorn ( this is a technical term for parts of the river you fish and not a highlands music festival in case you wondered) it was somewhat alarming it had not rained in a while and none was imminently due.

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Recipe | Kind of revithada with chicken

A roast by any other name…

As expected my latest job was a total fast, furious and fun weekend. Having flown across the Irish sea ( I will never be persuaded to travel on it) I headed down to county Carlow.  I was to cook for a mass clan gathering to celebrate their chiefs 70th birthday.   As soon as I entered the house I could tell this crowd was ready to party. Thoughtful touches of welcome packs for the guests sat waiting in each of the bedrooms, giant balloons floated around downstairs, bright banners had been strung up, big bunches of daffodils had been placed on every ledge, there were enough candles to light up the entire country and a bottle or two of wine sat ready waiting to be opened.

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Recipe | Wild garlic and lemon risotto and wild garlic pesto bread

If you go down to the woods today ….

You are quite likely to find a host of lush green edible leaves… and me picking them !

Wild garlic, a.k.a ramsons, buckrams, wild garlic, broad-leaved garlic, wood garlic, bear leek and bear’s garlic has just started to spring up, an exciting sign that spring really is here.

Bears apparently like to munch on it when coming out of hibernation to help get their digestive system fired up which perhaps helps explain its Latin name of Allium ursinum (Ursa being Latin for bear). When foraging here in the UK it is most unlikely that you will need to fend off any bears whilst gathering your wild garlic ( though possibly you will me)!   What you do have to look out for is mistakenly picking the plant Lilly of the valley, which looks similar, but is toxic. If unsure give the leaf a rub and you should instantly be able to smell garlic.

Other animals keen on it are cows which can be unfortunate as it then taints the milk.  Naturally garlic milk would of course be perfect for making a delicious béchamel sauce… but less so when its comes to a nice cup of tea.

So excited was I about smelling, finding and picking my first basket of the season last week, that I took a bag with me on my job cooking in Herefordshire for the weekend.

Personally, when it is in season, I would quite merrily have it in most things including risottos, pasta, bread ( one of the recipes for this postcard), pesto’s and my personal favourite.. laced into scrambled eggs for breakfast.   I did manage to restrain myself from putting it into everything for my clients though as showing diversity in the kitchen is always appreciated and expected in my profession.

I used up my bag on the first day but then discovered down by their river there was a carpet of the lovely stuff (and some amazing Jurassic era looking plants). If you are out on the hunt for it yourself you are most likely to find it in ancient deciduous woodlands, shady lanes, hedgerows, near patches of bluebells ( though they appear after) or dimly lit river banks. Failing that I saw some bunches at borough market, though at £1.50 for a tiny bunch it may be more cost effective to travel out to your nearest woods to try and find your own!

If you find wild garlic I think the best way to harvest it is to cut the leaves near the base instead of pulling up the entire root which will reduce the amount of plants available next year ( the plant reproduces through forming underground bulbs) and bring with it a load of mud. You can eat the bulbs but it is the leaves and in a couple of weeks the flowers you should really be after…

Once you have them back home wash the leaves well several times and depending on where I get them from I sometimes add a dash of Milton to the water to help get rid of any unwanted germs. You should check carefully through your stash before cooking and eating as it is easier to pick up other plants like ivy which you clearly don’t want to be eating.

When not cooking dishes involving wild garlic my other weekend food included an epic curry night ( I have found the best Kerelan curry recipe ever), rhubarb tarts, ice cream and a refreshing rhubarb, ginger and rosemary sorbet, roast beef – Hereford really does produce some fantastic meat, a whole baked monkfish with harrissa and zhoug, and the instgram star of the week avocado, ricotta, tahini, poached eggs with sourdough and chili flakes.

For this postcard I have included not one but two recipes as I would love you to eat lots of it, in lots of different ways before the short 6 week season flies by and ends. When the flowers are out don’t forget to try my fritter recipe from last years wild garlic post  Deep fried wild garlic flowers. It is also worth keeping an eye out in the shops a little later on in the year for Cornish yarg cheese ( normally wrapped in nettles) wrapped in wild garlic leaves.  I like to eat the two types side by side as its quite amazing how the same cheese can taste so different just from being covered by a few different leaves.

This week

Every home should have : a river with banks carpeted in wild garlic in the garden.

Dishes with wild garlic : 7 ( at home)

I’m loving : local Herefordshire beef

I’m driving : a sporty Audi A5 and a Peugeot 208 ( less sporty)

 

Wild garlic pesto laced bread

Pesto

Handful of washed wild garlic

100g freshly grated Parmesan

1 small garlic clove, crushed with a pinch of salt.

Juice and zest from ½ lemon

50g lightly toasted hazelnuts ( skin off)

150ml olive oil

Place everything except the oil in a food processor or NutriBullet ( the are amazing) ( no I’m not sponsored by them) and whizz up till smooth. Stir in the olive oil and season with pepper and possibly a pinch of salt (as the cheese is salty and the garlic had salt when being crushed, you may not need it).

For the bread ;

2 1/2 tsp dried yeast

2 tsp honey

250ml warm water

450g white bread flour (plus a little extra)

1 tsp salt

40ml olive oil plus a drizzle extra

Pre heat the oven to 180 °C fan.

In a jug mix the yeast, warm water and honey together and leave to stand somewhere warm for 5 minutes – it should start frothing.

In a big bowl mix the flour, salt and olive oil then pour in the water. Bring together into a bowl and knead for 10 minutes.

Leave to rise in a bowl covered with a tea towel for 30 minutes then gently fold in a few spoonful’s of the pesto.

Lightly roll out into an oblong 1 inch thick and transfer onto a lightly floured baking sheet or a piece of baking paper.

Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise for 30 minutes.

Remove the tea towl and using your fingers make a few dimples in the dough, drizzle on a little olive oil and sprinkle with some salt flakes.

Bake on a lower shelf for 20 – 25 minutes ( it should be lightly golden and have a firm bottom) .

Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes before cutting into slices and serving.   You can serve with the extra pesto to smear onto it or save the pesto to stir through pasta or risotto.

Wild garlic risotto.

Serves 2

1 tbs butter

1 tbs olive oil plus a little extra.

1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped

2 sticks celery , washed and finely chopped

300g risotto rice

splash of white vermouth

1 glass dry white wine.

1-liter of light chicken, game or vegetable stock ( hot)

100g freshly grated parmesan

zest and juice of 1 lmon

2 large handful of washed, roughly chopped wild garlic.

In a saucepan gently sauté the onion and celery in the butter and olive oil.

Once softened ( about 10 mins) add the risooto rice and stir until all coated and hot. Add the vermouth and wine and a ladleful of hot stock and stir.

Keep adding the hot stock one ladleful at a time, stirring and waiting for the liquid to be absorbed before you add the next one.

Once the rice is nearly cooked take off the heat and add the lemon zest and juice and 2/3 of the parmesan and some freshly milled black pepper.

In a clean pan fry the washed chopped wild garlic with a little extra virgin olive oil until wilted then stir this and any pan juices into the rice.

Check for seasoning and consistency ( you may want to add a little more hot stock) then serve straight away with extra parmesan on top.

 

Next stop …County Carlow .

 

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Recipe | Cheese fondue

Round and round the garden….

I really wanted to call this post ‘the naked chef ‘ but there was a strong possibility of it slipping straight into your spam box or me having plagiarism issues with Mr Oliver.   So for an easier life I have settled with ‘round and round the garden’ for reasons which I shall explain later.

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Recently returning from cooking in a ski chalet nestled into the spectacular snowy mountains of Val d’Isere I was delighted to come back to a Blighty turning its back on the so called “ clean eating’ trend. Not only do I think this is mentally and physically better for all of us (and in some ways the environment) but also means you are far more likely to try this postcards cheese laden recipe.

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Cooking for ski jobs means stepping slightly stepping away from my usual mantra of shopping for local ingredients and focusing on seasonal cooking. You wont find many edible delights growing or being produced on top of the mountain and Ive never had a request for a Marmot (mountain squirrel) stew. There are the occasional cheese factories however dotted around the white slopes and I clearly remember when I first learnt to ski forcing myself prematurely down a red run in order to visit one.

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Ski resorts like Val d’Isere have to cater to a jet set crowd and in the last few years I have noticed the improvement and greater diversity of available ingredients. Unlike all the other places I visit in France, where markets will focus on their local food and mostly ignore food trends, ski resorts seem to be the exception. Global ingredients like fresh coriander, lemongrass or Soba noodles are easy to find. As with most places in France even the supermarkets have very good fresh meat counters and there they had a suitable selection to please their international market from pork ribs to beef fillets and rabbit to pigeons. Fish is ok but obviously not being anywhere near the sea and not being in the easiest place to get to it all requires close inspection before buying, even from the good fishmongers.

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Generally for a chalet job the chef does breakfast, which requires an early morning visit to the boulangerie that comes with a very pleasant blast of fresh cold air, unbeatable for a quick wake up. Clients are usually out for lunch on the mountain on one of the impressive restaurants on the piste so the next meal is afternoon tea consisting of a calorie laden cake and lashings of tea then a 3 or 4 course dinner complete with drinks and canapés. As everyone has rather long energetic days appetites are healthy but even so I have noticed as the week progresses a shift to slightly more balanced eating with more fish, vegetables and lighter evening meals being requested. Highlights included a delicious Greek night which kicked off my ‘cook a new recipe at least once a week ‘ plan for the year ( you can follow this on my instagram feed postcards from a private chef) and beef wellington that although isn’t necessarily a lighter option it was certainly a great party piece. Having made quite a few Beef wellingtons in recent months and read the various versions and advice I am going to be bold and confess to not agreeing with the shame attached to having a soggy bottom. What could be more delicious than a mushroom and beef juice soaked piece of buttery puff pastry after all? This is also far superior to wrapping a pancake round the beef as some suggest which I think adds an unwanted heaviness or the inclusion of a layer of Parma ham which I find a distracting flavour…so sorry Mary Berry but we cant agree on everything!

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Once I had finished my weeks cooking I headed over the boarder to Switzerland to visit friends,, which is where the naked chef comes in..

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Knowing that one of my hosts cooks the best fondue on the planet I put in my request to have one during my stay.

Coming from the French word ‘fondre’ , to melt, cheese fondue can be traced back to the 18th century in Switzerland. With limited access to fresh food in the winter, heating the older cheese with wine and dipping in the slightly stale bread to use it all up became a popular dish with mountain dwelling villagers. Unlike France bread making was not done every day. In the 1930s the Swiss cheese union started a grand campaign to increase Fondues popularity and therefore sales. This was temporally suspended during rationing in the second world war but quickly resumed as Europe recovered.

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The authentic cooking pot is called a caquelon and all recipes call for garlic , cheese and wine then some may include additions of spices or herbs but I feel these are really not necessary. Once made the fondue sits above a small flame on the table and the feasting can begin with diners dipping in small pieces of bread and swirling it round to coat it in the magnificent melted cheese. Some like to dip their bread in kirsh or vodka first but I tend to steer away from this as eating fondue does not come with out its perils. Double dipping is clearly a no no but even more a serious offence is loosing your bread in the pot. The penalty for this varies from house to house and can include being landed with the washing up, kissing your neighbor (which I guess could be bonus depending on who you are sat next to) or as in the case with my friends, running round the garden…..naked.

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At the end of the intense fondue eating session we were left with ‘la religieuse’, the nun, a crisp thin cracker of cheese that forms at the bottom of the pot.. The flame is extinguished and the disk scraped off and shared. This is impossible to resist, even if you feel you are ‘cheesed out’ already.

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So for this postcard recipe I give you the worlds greatest fondue recipe. If you don’t have a fondue pot you can use a heavy based pan or could try getting married as they are pretty much a guaranteed wedding present here in the UK.

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This week

Cheese eaten: an impressive amount that I’m too ashamed to write

Laps round the garden naked : xxx

I experienced: how seriously the Swiss take their chocolate

Layers needed to keep warm: 5

Every home should have : a fondue pot

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Cheese Fondue

The Swiss recommend 200g of cheese per person but believe me that is a lot so I would go with 150g each. Dry white wine or hot tea is the usual accompaniment with a shot of Kirsch for those who are feeling bold.

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1 garlic clove

1 glass of dry white wine

600g fondue friendly cheese – its hard to beat gruyere or Emmental though the packet stuff often has a bit of swiss vacherin in it to.

Splash of kirsch

3 – 4 tsp cornflour

In a small cup mix the kirsch with the corn flour.

Peel and smash the garlic clove and enthusiastically rub the inside of your fondue pot.

Add the glass of wine and heat so just about to simmer then start adding your cheese, stirring constantly in a figure of eight shape until it is all in and melted.

Add the corn flour and continue to cook and stir for a couple of minutes, it should thicken slightly.

Serve with baskets of one bite size pieces of bread and make sure you have your trainers at the ready…

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Next stop… the West Country

 

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Recipe | Garlic, garlic and Pheasant casserole

Phestive Pheasant Phun…

“Welcome to Scotland, Its -6 °C”! the cheerful staff at Enterprise car hire chirped.

I think if they had looked closely at my 5 layers, hat, gloves, fur lined boots, hunched shoulders and hopping around moves, they would have been well aware that I had totally sussed that part of the situation out.

Winning top prize for the most polite and helpful car hire location ever they helped me gather my luggage which included suitcase, aprons, knives and half a butchers shop, chip through the ice cube in which my car was apparently hiding, triple checked I had everything I needed and knew where I was off to then practically waved me off with off with marching bands and a ticker tape parade. I glanced in the mirror as I slipped through the exit barrier to witness the dabbing of wet eyes and the Enterprise team dishing out moral boosting hugs (OK that last bit I actually imagined but they were just SO unbelievably nice). Heart and mood well warmed I headed northwards to Perthshire to cook for a weekend that promised to be filled with fun, pheasants and frivolity.

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In keeping with a proper modern day but nod to the traditional ‘shoot weekend‘ there was to be a balance of hearty food, healthy food, game, games, cocktails, drinks, fresh air, very late nights and very early mornings. By the time I had unpacked the shopping the fridges, larders and cold rooms were bulging with lush ingredients, the butter and cream supplies looked top and everyone was excited…including the spaniels.

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As the heart of the weekends activities were focused around pheasants this postcard recipe is of course championing this delicious, iron, potassium, vitamin B and protein rich meat.

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I often feel it is a great shame that many people generally dismiss all game when cooking, shopping or choosing from a menu. It can have wonderful flavour and is generally less strong or ‘gamey’ that many people assume, especially since it has long since moved out of the macho /over hung maggot infested era. Perhaps people have issues with its firmer texture, distinct of the hill flavour, potential lead content and wild lifestyle but for me that is part of the attraction ( well maybe not the lead bit).

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Pheasant makes an excellent substitute for chicken in most dishes, it just needs a little extra care and attention when cooking. The fresh meat is available in the UK from the 1 st October to the 1 st February and/or if you know anyone with countryside connections there is high probably there will be one lurking in a freezer near you. Pheasant meat is lean so care has to be taken not to over cook it as it will dry out but when successfully done the taste rewards are great. Young birds at the beginning of the season are often more tender as they have not been flying around or had to toughen up as the weather turns colder. It is in the first few months I like to roast the birds whole or quick fry the breasts. As the season goes on and the bird ages they can toughen up so it is best to slow cook or braise them with plenty of liquor. This postcard recipe is perfect for pheasants around now as the slow cooking and lashings of juice will ensure it wont dry out.

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This week

Every home should have: pheasants

I used: 121 eggs

They consumed: 16 packs of butter

I love : Thomas Goodge crockery

I’m driving : an ice cube

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Garlic, Garlic and Pheasant casserole

This is a great dish for this time of year, slow cooking ensures tender and tasty results for the pheasant and the garlic hit may help ward of *vampires and colds

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Feeds 6

3 heads of garlic

5 tbs extra virgin olive oil

3 pheasants jointed into legs and breasts (use the rest of the carcass to make a delicious stock for soup or risottos)

3 tbs olive oil

12 leaves of bay

3 leeks washed and cut into 2cm rings

2 red onions, peeled and thinly sliced

¼ bottle dry white wine

200ml cider

2 tbs chopped parsley

Pre heat the oven to 170 °C

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Peel all the garlic cloves and put 3 to one side. Gently fry the rest in a large pan on a low heat in 2 tbs of the olive oil until lightly golden then place to one side.

Turn the heat up to a medium and add another 2 tbs olive oil. Sear all the pheasant pieces on each side, season with salt and pepper and place into a casserole dish.

Add the last of the oil to the pan and sauté the onions and leeks until just softening (about 10 minutes) then mix in with the pheasant.

Add the garlic, wine and cider, season with extra salt and pepper then cover with baking parchment then foil.

Bake for 1 ½ hours stirring half way through, the meat should be tender and prepared to fall off the bone, if not cook for another ½ hour.

To serve

Finely chop the 3 remaining cloves of garlic and sprinkle on top with the parsley.

This dish is delicious with mashed potatoes or celeriac.

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*Garlic health benefits and vampire repelling qualities are diminished once cooked.

 

Next stop… Pre Christmas Christmas near Toulouse

 

 

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Recipe | Roast suckling pig

This little piggy…

Sardinia meant a new destination and new client for me so all seemed very exciting. The initial introductions were done over the phone and all seemed like it would work out very nicely until…

“ Oh yes we eat practically anything”! (client)

“Great” (me)

“Yes, and we wondered how you felt about cooking baby … phone line crackles at inopportune moment.

‘I’m sorry?”

“Baby…!” more phone crackling then the line goes dead.

Cripes I thought, what had I got myself into?!

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Recipe | Vlita, saffron and feta pie

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My big fat Greek….Pie

An overnight stay in Athens was swiftly followed by a few hours boat ride across the Aegean to the pretty island of Paros where the gleaming white washed buildings lay backdrop to the colourful myths, legends and modern day lives of the Greeks. The winding streets of the towns, so designed to make attacking pirates lives more difficult, were filled with cafes, boutiques, ouzerias and restaurants. I soon decided this was my kind of place.

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Our villa instantly filled with guests and I quickly got my first taste of Greek family life. They are similar to the French and Italians in terms of passion and excitement over food, the amusing uncontrollable urge to stir pots on the stove every time they walk by and the wonderful ability to discuss recipes at length. Even the children were overheard debating which their favourite dish of the week had been.   In my books however I have to currently admit the Greeks edge ahead with their friendliness. Firstly they do not look at you like you have just blasphemed every time you attempt to utter a few words of their language (the French, as much as I love them, have I am sure given most of us puzzled glaring looks when pronouncing words fractionally wrong then follow it with a mini lesson that they are never satisfied with the result in). Secondly, unlike the Italians (of whom I am also very fond) who fiercely defend their recipes and dictate that theirs is the best and only way to make a certain dish, the Greeks seem much more easy going and delighted and interested in their food culture being an inspiration for a new dish.

With the mercury easily hitting the 30°C each day but a delightful breeze keeping us all in a very pleasant state, food was light, summary and involved of course a lot of extra virgin Greek olive oil. 2016-07-10_0014

I instantly loved that shopping for fruit and vegetables was dictated by what was fresh, local and in season and it was very much one of those places here you go to the shop/market and then decide what to cook. There are permanent stalls/benches set up in the towns that farmers can just come and sell there produce at when they have it and some farmers shops that although are certainly more shi shi than a few old wooden crates by the side of the road still fully focus on what the very productive island has to offer.

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Feeling plucky and encouraged by the feed back by day three I decided it was time to cook them a lamb dish

“ Ooh that’s brave, cooking lamb for the Greeks”, the hostess playfully told me as I splashed extra of the local excellent wine, Moraitis over the young legs of lamb and returned them to the oven.

Well too late now, I thought as suppertime shortly loomed. Again they were delighted with it loved that I had used local wine and the wild thyme and oregano that had been picked by the path that led down to the beach.

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With encouragement from this and courage from a little outing with the group the night before for a pre dinner ouzo I decided it was time to have a go at my version of their practically national dish, Spanakopita (surely the name of the next bond girl)  this postcards recipe.

Having never been one to feel totally compelled to follow the well-trodden path I had been thinking of ways I could beneficially twist the dish.

Saffron and vlita became my answers.

 

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In the middle ages the charmingly named Essex town of Cheppinge Waldron became Englands epicentre for saffron and so great was its importance that the places’ name was changed to Saffron Waldron. Sadly with a puritan sway sweeping the land as we emerged from the Middle Ages, our tastes became plainer, the saffron use declined and so did the industry.

Legend has in ancient Greek that when the bold and ‘easy on the eye ‘ youth Crocus set his amorous heart of the nymph Smilax she indulged him in some frolics in a wood near Athens. Enjoyment, on her part at first, soon turned to boredom and when he continued to persist in bothering her she turned him into the flower ‘saffron crocus’ and still to this day the fiery glow of the stigmas reveals his smouldering but unrequited passions…or so the story goes.

The Mediterranean island of Santonrini has had discoveries of wall murals dating back a few thousand years BC of beautiful breast baring female saffron gathers that tells us of the exotic spices long history with this land. I cant imagine a similar dress code or look for the Middle Ages saffron pickers in Essex but then again perhaps it was dress down Fridays that sparked a puritanical turn in our ways.

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So on a bold Friday morning I made my big fat greek pie and presented it at the table. We sat down to lunch, slices were shared out and we began to eat.

Then the head of the table says;

“ That was the best spinach pie I have ever had”!

Inwardly I was thinking OMG are the woman going to throw plates/daggers/a wild cat ( there are quite a few here) at him?! Would this be the beginning of the end for me? Will this bring and end to the holiday harmony and bliss? ….

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No of course not, more wine was poured, the laughter and chat levels rose, various methods, twists and recipe ideas were discussed and the party continued…

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This Week

Greek Extra Virgin Olive oil used : 8 Litres

Raw Greek Honey used : 2 lbs

I’m loving: Ouzo

Im reading : Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, totally gripping and can’t believe I hadn’t read it before.

Mode of transport : Boats, trains, Planes and cars

Every Greek Villa should have: poolside beanbag loungers and be within skipping distance to the Aegean.

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Vlita, feta and saffron pie

Serves 8

In the UK although the leaf vlita is not wildly available, it is a bit like a chard / spinach / nettle cross (but with out the sting), you will have seen its seed Amaranth in many food shops, a so called super food packed full of protein.

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4 or 5 thick sheets of filo

pinch of saffron

150g butter

2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

2 red onions finely chopped

1 tsp dried oregano

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

3 good handfulls of blanched vlita (or spinach / chard)

200g top quality feta

4 organic eggs

1 1/2 tbs each of finely chopped parsley, mint and dill

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Pre heat the oven to 180 °C

Melt the butter in a small pan with saffron then leave to one side to infuse

In a frying pan sauté the onions and garlic with the olive oil until softened and sweet.

In a bowl lightly beat the eggs, crumble in the cheese then add the herbs.

Add the cooked vlita to the egg mix and season with salt and pepper.

Brush a pie dish or baking tin of approx. 8” by 10” with the saffron butter.

Lay a sheet of filo down, it should come up over the sides and brush with butter.

Repeat with 2 more layers .

Tip the filling in and level out.

Then crinkling and rucking up the rest of the sheets of filo and the overhanging sides enclose the pie and drizzle with the rest of the saffron butter.

Bake for 45mins to 1 hour, the pie should be golden.

Can be eaten warm or cold.

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Next postcard recipe….I’m staying put !

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Recipe | Prawn, chicken and chorizo paella

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Leaping into spring some exciting developments have happened,

Firstly Philippa Davis, postcard recipes now has a face book page which I would love you all to like and share, I will be posting more photos, videos, cooking tips and recipes. Click here to like face book 

I also have been on the radio chatting to the lovely William Sitwell, editor of Waitrose Food, about life as a private chef. You can listen to the interview by clicking this link Radio Soho 

If you see a crocodile…

‘Row, row, row your boat’ has got to be a top classic when it comes to kids songs, this was made clear to me when my 5 year old niece recently gave me all her variations. Favourite renditions would have to include:

“Row, row, row your boat gently down the river

If you see a polar bear don’t forget to quiver”

Row, row, row your boat gently to the bay

If you see a pirate ship sail the other way “

Row, row, row your boat gently to the shore,

If you see a lion there don’t forget to roar”

These lines were unfortunately swimming round my head as I went to my job cooking for a party of 50 people celebrating the start of a rather serious and successful female London rowing team.

 

I love cooking for parties whether there are 2 or 150 guests expected (just providing I haven’t been told to cater for 2 and 150 show up). I know some find it more stressful then pleasurable catering for numbers so I thought I would use this blog post to give a few tips and tricks for preparing for a party.

Firstly anything you can prepare before the day, do and if you don’t have a fleet of staff at your disposable get some friends or family to help, its more fun.

The Table

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Laying tables, this can be done up to two days before the event if you turn the glasses up side down.

Flower arranging can be done the day before, if you have some where cool to keep them, and moved into situ on the morning, make sure they are either low enough to talk over or will tower high like a canopy above the seated guests. You can use anything from jam jars to Milano glass just try and get some sort of continuity with either colours, shapes or style. When decorating a large table it can take more time and flowers than you think.

 

Linen

Think how formal you want it to be and what sort of occasion you are catering for, if its for a rather fun loving and rowdy crowd you probably don’t want to get out your best white linen and spend the evening worrying that someone’s going to decorate it with their red wine.

Napkins – for large numbers believe me everyone hesitates whether it’s acceptable to use good quality paper instead of cloth. Trust me no one will ever go home tutting that the evening was spoilt not being able to dab their mouths with a Weissfee napkin.

Sort out serving dishes and utensils the day before (carefully dusting down that wedding gift dinner service you only use every seven years).

 

Drinks

Chilling drinks.

Nothing is worse than a warm glass of white wine (ok that’s a bit of an exaggeration but its not nice). Drinks can all be bought in advance and put in the chiller, remember it can take longer then usual when there are lots and the fridges and freezers are fuller than normal with food ect.

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Cocktails – are a thoughtful and fun way to start the party, I like to put seasonal twists on mine so at the moment it’s all about forced rhubarb or blood oranges.

Water – make sure you have lots of jugs or bottles at the ready and that they are refilled, no one will thank you for a hangover due to dehydration. If using jugs it delicious to put slices of lemon, lime or cucumber or sprigs of mint in.

 

Food shopping

In a ‘Stepford Wife’ (or husband as men these days are in the kitchen more than ever) perfect style world you would of course calmly gather all the ingredients from local shops and markets in ones wicker basket. In reality you are probably trying to juggle preparing for the party, taking little Johnny to the dentist and keeping a watch on that piece from 1stdibs that has caught your eye. So if short of time there is no shame in getting the bulk of ingredients in an Ocado delivery.

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The Menu

If you are a fearless and experienced cook its fine, you can choose to put soufflés for 16 on your menu or make 5 different flavoured macaroons for petit fours if not…choose dishes you have made before and that are not too complicated. It’s meant to be a fun occasion for everyone so it doesn’t make sense to choose something that causes tears and tantrums in the run up.

Don’t plan on making too many different dishes, its best to do a few really well then prepare a Caesar like feast.

Make sure one course is completely finished before guests arrived (I usually do the desserts) so there is less pressure and distraction on you as the host during the event.

Buffets (although not a word I love) or platters of food popped in the middle of the table are a brilliant way to feed a group and take my word for it everyone from Dukes to Captains of industry are doing it. This style of serving food has various advantages in that guests can control their own portion size, its saves time and space on plating up food and passing round food or gathering at the feeding trough can help break at the ice at the beginning.

 

Remember if you decide on using a buffet table think about the flow of people – centre isles are great as guests can work their way round and not cause a human traffic jam but if you have to serve from a table in the corner make sure they start at the wall end with the empty plates then work their way into the room finishing with picking up their cutlery and napkin.

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Choosing your menu

Good dishes to prepare for parties are ones that don’t take up too many pots and pans ( you don’t want a pile of washing up as guests arrive) or that can be made ahead and cooked or reheated on the day.

Curries, pies, cobblers, lasagnes and tagines are all good for this as well as paella which is the recipe for this postcard.

 

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This week

Philippa Davis postcard recipes now has a face book page, please click here to like and share face book

Boats rowed to shore: 9

This seasons party cocktail: Rhubarb, gin and prosecco

Paper vs Linen : Paper

Chilled drinks and hosts: 100 %

If you see a crocodile ; run!

Ive been on William Sitwells radio show Biting talk, click hear to listen

Biting talk 

 

Chicken, Chorizo and Prawn paella

Serves 12

The stock

Amazing soups, risottos and paellas start with an amazing stock so it is totally worth investing time and money in it.

If you don’t have a paella pan you can make it in one or two large frying pans and transfer it onto platters for serving.

2 tbs olive oil

2 large handfuls of prawn shells or 300g of prawns with their shell on

1 glass of white wine

½ a glass of dry sherry or brandy

1 free-range chicken carcasses

1 white onion peeled and roughly chopped

1 head of garlic sliced horizonattly in half

bunch of parsley stalks

1 tbs black peppercorns

1tbs fennel seeds

In a large pot fry the prawns shells in the oil until starting to slight;y brown then slosh in the wine and brady or sherry.

Add the there stock ingredients then fill the pot 1 inch from the top with cold water.

Bring to a boil then turn down and simmer for about 1 hour ( preferably 2).

Drain the stock through a sieve into another sauce pan and leave to one side.

The Paella.

There are of course many variations including a rabbit and snail one, but no ones ever requested it. My favourite is this chicken, prawn and chorizo.

2 tbs olive oil plus a little extra for the chicken

2 white onions peeled and chopped into approx. 1 cm squares

2 red peppers chopped the same size as the onions

4 cloves of garlic finely chopped

6 bay leaves

300g cooking chorizo chopped into small chunks ( can be the spicy sort if that’s what you like).

10 skinless and boneless chicken breasts cut into 3’s (you can use more or less depending on how hungry the crowd you are feeding are)

840g paella rice

700g peeled raw prawns

2 handfuls of cooked peas

3 tbs finely chopped parsley

3 lemons

1 x large pinch of saffron mixed wih 50ml just boiled water

Bring the prepared stock to a simmer

In your frying / paella pan sear all the chicken pieces in a little of the olive oil till browned on each side then remove from the pan and put to one side (you are not cooking them through at this stage).

Then on a medium heat fry the onions, pepper, chorizo, garlic and bay leaves in the olive oil for about 10 minutes until lightly caramelised, stirring regularly.

Add the rice and stir well so everything is hot .

Carefully pour the stock onto the rice so it comes about 2 cm above the rice, add the chicken and season with salt and pepper.

Let the pan simmer till most of the liquid has been absorbed then test the rice to see if it needs more cooking and liquid.

Once the rice is almost there add the prawns and peas. Cook for another couple of minutes so the prawns cook through and the peas are hot.

Once everything is cooked sprinkle over the saffron water and parsley. Squeeze over the juice from one lemon then cut up the other 2 into wedges and place on top of the rice

Serve with garlicky aioli and a fresh crunchy green salad.

Note – You don’t want the paella too sloppy or dry so you will have to judge for yourself how much stock to add in the final stages of cooking.

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Next stop, Portugal…

 

 

 

 

 

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Recipe | Steamed bass with ginger and soy

whisk

Soup and dragons

I instantly loved the fast energy of Hong Kong. The winding streets that were connected by hills, steep steps and alleyways were I admit a challenge at first with not every corner always being named and most signs being unintelligible to me but I feel sometimes the best ways to explore new places is to simply get lost (This is what I tell myself on a frequent basis at the moment).

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Growing up we were always told to eat everything and having reared our own meat for the table I have always eaten offal and the more unusual cuts of meat. So my usual reply to “Do you eat everything”? Is “Yes” I confess out in Hong Kong however I was a little more reluctant.

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Meandering through the countless markets and gazing into the shops, that were especially busy with Chinese New Year coming up, I really got the sense that they pretty much eat everything out there. One expat described their first few shopping trips more like going into a shop that would supply Merlin with so many wonderful and strange looking ingredients. I was very lucky to spend a day with a friend who not only is a brilliant chef but also is Hong Kong / Chinese so had it all sussed and with our mutual love of food did not mind me asking every two seconds “ What’s that”? and “What’s it for”?

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There is an incredible amount of dried goods that you can buy including meat, worms, fish bellies, mushrooms, birds nests where the bird spit is the prized component, abalone, shark fins and pretty much anything else you can think of. I spent an hour pointing and asking what it all was and what was it for. Most answers to the latter were “soup”. There is a huge focus on the properties of ingredients here and what health benefits they can give you.

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The wet markets were a thousand miles away (well actually 6000) from those back home. Fish were all alive and in tanks until bought then the fishmonger (mostly women) would get out their massive knife and …thwack!

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Eating out was a varied experience.   When eating out solo I only aced it 70% of the time, I had some incredible pork and prawn dumplings with watercress and a beef brisket noodle soup dish ( no doubt with some of those magical dried goods in the market making the stock so tasty) all for about £3. Sadly I also managed to order some dishes where MSG was the main ingredient and the sauce crazily heavily on the corn-starch. Interestingly both these were Michelin stared or recommended restaurants but I concluded you really have to know what you are doing when ordering here. Though in fairness, although I consider myself a fairly adventurous eater, even characters like Anthony Bourdain sometimes found it hard eating out here.  So when faced between choosing goose web (the feet) or pigs spleen you really do need some experienced help.

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The best meal was a dim sum breakfast. It was a very casual but very busy restaurant with locals sat around large circular tables and trolleys of steaming dim sum weaving their way in between. With no English like reserve customers ambush the trolleys as they pass and lift up the bamboo lids to see if they might want the goodies inside. Lashings of tea is served at a whole new level and continuously topped up by the waiters carrying around large kettles of boiling water.

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My recipe for this postcard was a very simple but incredibly delicious fish dish. In China they are very keen on only ‘just’ cooking the fish which makes it all the more delicious and succulent.

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This week:

I ate: 21 new dishes

I’ reading: (or trying to) Chinese characters.

I’m loving: the hustle and bustle

I’ve learnt: when exchanging business cards (or indeed exchanging most things) it is polite to use both hands. Also that on receiving a business card it is polite to spend time studying it.

I’m told : not having your business card at a party is like forgetting your underwear.

My editor is: asleep whilst I type so please excuse the colourful grammar etc.. 2016-01-21_0003

 

Steamed fish with ginger, soy and ginger.

This is the most simple (and recognisable) dish I ate whilst in Hong kong but also one of the most delicious with its clean fresh flavours and perfectly cooked fish.

The picture is the one I ate at the Jockey Club.

Serve with mounds of white rice.

Serves 2

1 x whole sea bass 800g – 1 kilo

3 fingers worth of ginger peeled and finely julienned

5 x spring onions finely chopped on an angle

15 g coriander roughly chopped

80 ml soy sauce

1 tbs rice wine

1 tbs sesame oil

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Make sure the fish is descaled, gills removed and fins snipped off.

Cut three slashes down each side so you almost reach the bone.

Place 1/3 of the ginger, coriander and spring onions in its belly .

Place the fish on the holding plate in your steamer and steam on high until just cooked (check after 8 minutes).

Mix together the ginger, soy, sesame oil and spring onions then heat gently in a pan.

When the fish is cooked lay out on a serving platter, pour over the sauce and top with coriander.

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Next hop… Singapore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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