My latest Cook Up A Party workshop in the lovely Medicine Garden in Cobham was a huge success, great fun with a lovely crowd. We stirred, sniffed, discussed, chopped and chatted away whilst making an exciting array of canapes and party food. In a nutshell, this is my guide to canapes:

Menu planning

  • When choosing your canapés, always try to have a mix of meat, fish and vegetarian.
  • You should also include a good variety of tastes and textures, and colours. Remember that canapés are meant to be served with drinks so will need to be a small bite with a big flavour and also easy to eat without spilling bits down your front.
  • Bear in mind that many people have wheat allergies so make sure that not all your canapés are bread or wheat based.
  • Aim for a mix of varied ingredients and try not to repeat the same ingredient more than once in a menu.
  • Use fresh seasonal ingredients – for instance if it is spring, then you can include some fresh asparagus tips on the menu.
  • Try to include a couple of hot canapés for parties during the colder months, and for summer make sure that the canapés are fresh and light
  • Think about what you are going to serve to drink and try and match the food – i.e. Rustic mulled cider would be better paired with some more robust food, whilst serving cocktails means that the food needs to be pretty stylish. If serving Champagne or Prosecco the accompanying canapes should be elegant and uncomplicated


  • For pre-lunch or dinner drinks, allow three different canapés per person
  • For a two to three hour drinks party allow 10 bits per guest, and choose between five to 10 different canapés
  • For a canapés only party, served in place of a meal, allow 15  pieces per head and choose 8-15 different canapés
  • For canapés to be served instead of a first course before a lunch or dinner, allow five canapés per guest, and choose five different types
  • For a stand-up wedding reception, allow 12 savoury canapés and then 3-4 different sweet canapés

40 minute meatballs

One of the joys of being self employed is that you are often out and about whilst the rest of the world is at work. The downside is, of course, that when everyone else is either out enjoying themselves or on their way to bed, you are working. However I really value my morning walks in the park, and am so lucky to live near the most beautiful park with really good coffee right in the middle of it. This tiny little mobile van is manned by the ever cheerful Pietro who dispenses coffee con amore and great cooking tips. Even the wettest, coldest and dullest of days are improved by a walk to the coffee shack; I always come away with my spirits lifted ready to face the day’s work. Chester, the dog, also enjoys it as some of the regulars slip him bacon from their freshly prepared bacon rolls, dog biscuits or even on occasion a taste of ice cream. Last Thursday Pietro described the meatballs he had made the previous evening. “You gotta use pork and beef, maybe a little bit more beef than pork. And it ‘as to be good meat you know? I mix it up with some ‘erbs – what do call it? A bit of garlic, a bit of basil, some flat parsley. And make them big – you want a decent mouthful. Then you fry.” I asked him how long for and he said “40 minutes”! When I looked surprised, he told me that they are big and need a long time. “Don’t hurry it. You need a bit of patience and then – delicious!” So sometime soon I will be making the 40 minute giant meatballs, although I still love the Nigel Slater Polpettini recipe best…




Speciality and Fine Food Fairs UK – Autumn 2011

This years show at Olympia was a corker, showcasing many great new products. Some companies had just launched that day at the show. There were numerous oil companies, lots of chocolate businesses and an awful lot of Iberica ham being carved for tasting. Thank goodness I hadn’t had lunch as we munched away around the show. We met some great people who had found creative solutions to working the family farm.

The following is a selection of my own private awards:


My award for the best stand was for Corker crisps because of their charming staff and the vintage red mini.  With its union jack roof and looking like it had escaped from the set of The Italian Job, this symbol of great British design had been driven all the way to their stand from Willow Farm in Cambridgeshire. Apparently the family has been growing potatoes on the rich Fenland soil since the 1800s and they believe the combination of the rich soil and Naturalo potatoes is what makes their crisps the best.



We were positively drawn to the Hogs Back Brewery stand by a charming silver haired gentleman, complete with twirly silver moustache. Pressing a shot of HOP bottled beer into our hands he beamed as we discovered that we really liked it. Best described as a pale, golden beer it tasted malty with a good balance of hops and touch of sweetness. I would definitely like to drink more of this. The brewery is near Guildford in Surrey and conducts tours of the brewery, which need to be pre-booked. Or you can walk in the lovely countryside around the brewery then pop into their shop and take a few beers away with you to sample at home.



We met the lovely lady behind Spice Rack Chocolates who gave us some to try and explained that her chocolates are unique because the chocolates are solid and infused with herbs, spices, coffees and teas, using high quality ingredients. I’m not sure that they have a distributor in the UK yet, but watch out for these products. They are gorgeous.

Twitter @spicedchocolate


Pride of Place Baking Company for their delicious crunchy porridge oatcakes – described as .
“Nutty and crumbly, with no artificial colours, preservatives or hydrogenated fat”  these would be fantastic with cheese or with some smoked trout or smoked mackerel pate spooned on top. These are sold through independent delis and farm shops an are definitely worth seeking out as they have won no less than 5 *Gold Star Awards and 1**Gold Star Awards in the 2011 Great Taste Awards



I’m not normally a gin drinker, but the 6 O’Clock Gin I sipped with a splash of their own brand tonic was a cut above normal gin, and tasted balanced with aromatics. Born out of Bramley and Gage who are a small family business making fruit liqueurs to traditional recipes. You can buy the gin at a limited number of retail outlets, and also online through the Bramley & Gage website



Other mentions which we loved are the:

Fine Cheese Company of Bath

for their own brand Fine Cheese Toast selection which are sensationally good
The selection comprises:
Cherries, Almonds & Linseeds
Dates, Hazlenuts & Pumpkin seeds
Apricots, Pistachios & Sunflower seeds

Chase vodka

for it’s smooth potato based vodka and in particular the Rhubarb liqueur and the sip of limited edition Horseradish vodka we were lucky enough to try as I think we had the last drop.

Kitchen Garden Preserves

A fabulous array jams, jellies, chutneys and pickles from an award winning business based in Stroud. You can buy these products online and I particularly recommend their red wine jelly to go with roast chicken or meat.