A job in a barn and heart warming stew

This weekend found us in one of the more bizarre venues – a woodcutting mill in Gloucestershire. Our clients wanted to celebrate the installation of the timber frame for their new house and had invited over 80 guests. Forecast was wet, wet, wet and the frame had no roof. Our style of catering is based on logistics for a very good reason; each job is totally different and each has a fresh set of challenges. However, Jane and I are always up for a challenge and devised a brilliantly simple and delicious solution to feeding a lot of people lovely food without access to a kitchen. Fortunately the saw mill workshop had a roof and some electricity so we set up a bar in one barn and a kitchen/servery in another. We handed out our famous mini bagels and parmesan shortbreads whilst guests clambered around the building site, and huddled around the bonfire. We then served up steaming bowls of warming chorizo and butter stew with huge hunks of fresh, locally made focaccia. Finger food pudding was squares of our popular chocolate fridge cake and orange and almond cake. As it turned out the people were lovely and the food went down really well. Everyone had a great time, loved the strangeness of the situation and best of all, it didn’t rain.

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Christmas Canapé – Beetroot Cured Salmon

How to impress your guests at Christmas, the easy way.

The recipe below is for a jolly nice starter at any time, and is especially good with some home made soda bread. However, adjust the quantities and reduce by about 25% and you can use the salmon as an exciting Christmas Canapé. We serve it in tiny basil tartlets, but that is way too much work at a busy time, so for the home cook you can use ready made oatcakes as suggested below. Other canapé bases could be crostini, little tartlets or blinis. The colour is a beautiful deep, deep pink and looks very glamorous.

SALMON MARINATED WITH BEETROOT, DILL AND ORANGE

Pick up a nice piece of salmon, with skin on and check for tiny bones. This quantity is to serve as a starter, but I also use small bits with a dill creme fraiche in tiny oatcake biscuits as a canape – especially good at Christmas.

Serves 8-10

  • a side of salmon boned, about 800g
m
  • demerara sugar 100g
  • 
coarse sea salt 175g
  • 
black peppercorns 10g
  • 
vodka 4 tbsp
  • 
dill a large bunch, about 30g
  • 
 lemons 2 
finely grated
  • orange zest 2 tbsp
  • 
raw beetroot 600g

Check the salmon for any remaining bones, keeping an eye open for the tiny, almost invisible pin bones. These can be removed with tweezers. Lay the salmon skin-side down on a stainless steel enamel tin or glass dish. If the fish is too long, cut it in half.

Put the demerara sugar and salt in a mixing bowl. Roughly grind the peppercorns and add the sugar and the vodka. Roughly chop the dill and its stems, and add to the marinade. Finely grate the lemon zest and add to the sugar mixture with the grated orange zest. Peel and grate the beetroots, then stir into the other ingredients.

Spread the mixture over the fish and rub in well with your hands. Wrap a piece of clingfilm over the fish and place a heavy weight on top. (A small chopping board with a few cans on top will work.) Refrigerate for between 48 hours and four days.

Pour off and discard any liquid that has seeped from the marinade. Remove the cling film and scrape away the marinade.

Slice the fish thinly, as you would smoked salmon. Arrange on pretty plates with some lemon dressed rocket leaves.

Orange and Almond Cake Recipe

Orange and Almond Cake with Pomegranate

IMG_0176When dressed up with a blob of cream or creme fraiche and scattered with pomegranate seeds this makes a lovely cake dessert, but is delicious at anytime of day. No boiling away of whole oranges for hours, just using grated rind in the mix for flavour and juice for the syrup, which makes it one of the easiest recipes to crack on with.

This makes enough for a 23cm round spring-form cake tin or a 21 x 30 cm rectangular loose bottomed cake tin. Can also be made in a 2lb loaf tin.

Cake

  • 2 grated zest of large oranges
  • 6 eggs
  • 240g caster sugar
  • 230g ground almonds
  • pinch cinnamon (optional)

Syrup

  • Juice of the 2 oranges
  • 2 Tablespoons runny honey

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180’C/350’F/Gas 4
  2. Separate the eggs and beat the yolks with the caster sugar until thick and pale
  3. Add the ground almonds, grated orange zest and cinnamon if using
  4. Beat the egg whites until stiff and carefully fold into the almond mixture. This mixture is very stiff, so add a couple of spoonfuls of the egg whites to lighten the mixture.
  5. Pour into the cake tin and place in the centre of the oen for 30-40 minutes, until the cake is golden and firm to the touch
  6. Remove cake from oven and leave in the tin to cool
  7. Make the syrup by boiling up the juice and honey for 3-4 minutes and leave to cool
  8. Finally turn the cake out onto a board and piece small holes in the top with a skewer
  9. Spoon the syrup over the top of the cake until soaked in. Stor in an air tight container until ready to use

 

Food Photography

These are the photographs from my “homework” following the excellent Photography for Business Course I did with http://www.vickiknights.co.uk

This was an intensive four hour course and Vicki set us a challenge to produce three photographs within two weeks, which she would critique. I have to say that it is not easy taking good photographs and as Vicky would say, “you don’t take a photograph, you make it”. This is difficult if you are Mrs Impatient. However I think it will be really useful to learn how to use a camera properly rather than the snaps I take with the iPhone.

Here are Vicki’s comments on my pics:

Chocolate Chip Cookies in Silver Casket
Chocolate Chip Cookies in Silver Casket

Cookies: this is nice but I would say that it’s the weakest image out of the 3. Your settings are fine and the lighting is good, but I feel that the composition could have been improved slightly. I know we talked about adding context to your images but I do feel the photo would be stronger without the broken biscuits on the table, they don’t look quite as inviting as the ones in the casket! But I am just being really fussy here as it’s still a great image!

 Heather's Homemade Pesto

Heather’s Homemade Pesto

Pesto: I really love this image and I think it’s the strongest out of the 3. Your settings are good, lighting is great and I like the composition. I have no tips to give here as the image works really well as it is!

Orange and Almond Cake with Pomegranate
Orange and Almond Cake with Pomegranate

Orange cake: this image works really well compositionally, I love the angle you’ve used. The only thing I would say is it would have worked better to focus on the cake right at the front of the shot and then let the others blur away in the background. It looks like you have focussed on the cake to the left of the frame – was this accidental or deliberate? This is a good image anyway, but if the focus had been on the front cake this would have been amazing!

HEATHER’S GUIDE TO CANAPES

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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

Quantities

  • 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…

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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:

1. BEST STAND

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.

www.corkerscrisps.co.uk

2. BEST BEER

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.

http://www.hogsback.co.uk/

3. BEST CHOCOLATE

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.

http://www.SpiceRackChocolates.com
Twitter @spicedchocolate

4. BEST TRADITIONAL PRODUCT

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

http://www.yourpiecebakingcompany.com/

5. MY OVERALL FAVOURITE

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

http://www.bramleyandgage.co.uk/index.html

http://www.sixoclockgin.co.uk/

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
http://www.kitchengardenpreserves.co.uk/shop/

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.
http://www.chasedistillery.co.uk/

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.
http://www.kitchengardenpreserves.co.uk