Here comes the summer, BBQ or not to BBQ, that is the question.

Hooray, summer has arrived!


Cooking in the summer can be hot! I do mean hot, in my kitchen during these days of 28 degrees and above it has been a sauna, reaching over 36C at times. Cooking on a BBQ also has its challenges.

It has been a busy time with BBQs and I love them for the simplicity of the cooking but the whole process can make the event very special. The first BBQ of the summer was in the middle of June. The weather had been kind but on the day there was thirty minutes of heavy rain! I was under the cover of a gazebo but the force of the rain was creating a fine mist, plus the amount of water coming off the roof created an inch deep puddle under my feet! The typically British stoicism kicked in and the cooking continued. I finally finished cooking for 65 people and the party continued well into the night!
In the last six weeks I have had the pleasure of cooking for six events and the biggest challenge is not what you are going to cook on the BBQ but what you are going to put with the meats. Traditional dishes such as coleslaw are always a favourite but I like to add something different, a different element to a BBQ just to make it more interesting. So where do you start?
Before getting into the meats etc it is nice to offer something cooked on the BBQ as a starter or nibble. This can be something as simple as prawns cooked in a pan with oil and plenty of garlic. It may be messy but it is the epitome of finger food and a great way to get the party going – it also brings the sea closer to us here in Oxfordshire! Other starters include grilling a few small Portobello mushrooms on the BBQ and serving on half a bun with some fried onions and a little Dijon mustard spread on the bun.  Just lightly oil the mushroom place stalk side down on the BBQ and cook for 2 minutes, turn and do the same for 2 minutes. Pre-slice some onions and have an oiled pan on the BBQ so that you can keep a regular supply of onions available to accompany the meat etc.
As for the meats – I find that a selection of beef, lamb, chicken and the staples of a BBQ, sausages and burgers do the job. For those who are vegetarian etc I look for simple dishes that can be pre-cooked and finished on the BBQ, such as stuffed peppers, stuffed mushrooms (the large Portobello’s are great for that) and vegetable kebabs. Fish is good too – again a whole trout is a BBQ favourite and you can generally use sea bream or bass as an alternative. Use a fish cage to manage the fish on the BBQ – so much easier! Fish kebabs using cod, halibut and monk fish are also a fab BBQ meal. Marinade the fish in something like lemon and honey or a base of pureed mango and pineapple with some red chilli and coriander. Keep back some of the fruit to make a salsa to go with the fish when cooked. If you want to cook a piece of fish such as salmon, halibut etc I would use a metal tray covered with foil over the heat of the BBQ – the heat of the BBQ can quickly over cook the fish so you do need to watch it carefully. If you are doing kebabs – get metal skewers as you will find the wooden ones burn away, plus the metal conducts some heat into the items on the skewer.
Now for the meat, your local butcher should have a selection of flavours and these are great for the BBQ – I typically pre-cook a large number of sausages before a BBQ as it easier and quicker to cook all of the BBQ food this way. I would recommend you pre-cook chicken if you are going to BBQ it. I like to marinade it overnight with a lemon and honey mix or a Chinese style mix made with soy sauce, hoisin, fish sauce, rice wine, five spice and sugar. The meat tenderises and with the pre- cooking takes on the flavours of the marinade. Finishing them on the BBQ results in the great flavour combination of the marinade and the smokiness of the BBQ, fabulous!
When cooking steaks, either lamb or beef, I look for a simple cut of meat and not too thick. With beef steaks such as sirloin, rump and so on I feel are best cooked in a pan – they require more careful cooking rather than being exposed to the open fire. A minute steak is a great option as it cooks quickly and can be left for a shorter time to relax and then served. The steak is great with a salad or in a crusty baguette with some onions. With the lamb steak there will be a lot of fat on the meat so you have to watch the heat on the BBQ. You want to lose the fat but you don’t want to burn the meat to a carbon fibre level! The lamb should be no more than ½ inch thick and approx. 150 grams in weight. If you are serving other meat and fish from the BBQ allow 3-4 pieces per person.
Salads – what to make!
The traditional salad leaves with tomatoes and cucumber is great, simple and refreshing. I like to spice it up a little with some classics such as coleslaw but salads such as spinach and strawberries or Asian salad with a chilli dressing. Adding a sophisticated salad or two adds a new dimension to the BBQ. Starting with the traditional salads let’s make a coleslaw. For this get a small white cabbage and a small red cabbage, carrots (500g) and a couple of onions. Slice the onions into a bowl, peel and grate the carrots into the bowl. Cut the cabbages in half and use one half of each by cutting out the stalk and then cut ¼ inch or less slices and add to the bowl. Using a good mayonnaise dollop it into the dish until you get the wetness you want. Don’t make it too dry. You can vary this by adding peanuts, or chopped apple and some herbs such as chives. You can also tweak the flavour with a teaspoon or two of lemon juice.
Potato salad is great with BBQ food. Using good small potatoes such as Charlottes or Anya’s, boil until they are cooked, you will need to keep an eye on the texture as an over cooked potato will feel soggy and not taste nice. You want a firm potato. Rinse and leave in cold water till cooled down. Remove and drain. Cut into slices and put in a bowl. When ready add dollops of the aforementioned mayo and add some chopped chives and season. Delicious!
What about spicing up the salad? A simple green salad is fab but making something that has unusual ingredients or a different style will make the BBQ memorable. I have been making Tabouleh, a bulgar wheat based dish which has its roots in the Mediterranean and North Africa. It is simple and a great dish for BBQs. Put the quantity of bulgar wheat required in a bowl (50g for 2 people) and cover with boiling water. Leave for 20-30 minutes. In that time prepare some spring onions cut into small slices, use 2-3 medium sized tomatoes, cut in half and remove the seeds and dice the flesh roughly. Using half a cucumber dice it and when the wheat is ready rinse through with cold water and leave to drain. Then mix all ingredients in a bowl and season. Add olive oil and lemon juice, taste and add more of each until you are happy. Then keep in fridge ready for using. I enjoy a plate of Tabouleh for lunch in these hot days. Refreshing and tasty!
What about using Strawberries, plenty around and great with cream but with some fresh young spinach leaves and a tangy dressing they make a great fresh salad. Rinse and drain the spinach leaves. Hull and quarter the strawberries. Get some pancetta or bacon lardons, fry until brown and crisp. Drain the oil and leave to cool. Now make the dressing which is an equal amount of oil (olive or rapeseed etc) to cider vinegar. Add a good pinch of paprika and a spoon of sugar, salt and a teaspoon of sesame seeds and poppy seeds. Mix and taste, adding more of any ingredient you need to. Chill in the fridge for an hour. When ready to put the salad together put the spinach, strawberries and some flaked almonds in a bowl, mix and add the dressing as much as needed. Crunchy, sweet and tangy.

I love making an Asian salad which adds a real twist to a BBQ. Using blanched sliced carrots, mange tout, diced cucumber, chopped water chestnuts, diced spring onions, sliced Chinese cabbage put all of the cooled ingredients in a bowl. Make the dressing with chopped chillies, chopped fresh ginger and garlic and a spoon or two of sugar. Mix Sesame oil, Saff oil and rice wine vinegar with a teaspoon of English mustard powder. Mix the ingredients in the oil mix and chill. That’s the dressing made. You could vary the vinegar with some raspberry vinegar to create another dimension to the salad. When ready to serve put all of the ingredients in a bowl and pour the dressing over.
What about desserts I hear you ask. Well keep it simple. I am sure you will have similar recipe, I love putting bananas on the BBQ. Take a square of foil, butter it and remove the banana from the skin and place on the foil. Cover with a sprinkle of cinnamon, teaspoon of brandy and lemon juice, top with a knob of butter. Wrap the two ends of the foil together and make as many as you need. Put on the BBQ rack or in the glowing embers. Leave for 10-15 minutes, depending on the heat. Serve by opening the foil and draining the softened banana and the hot juice into a bowl, serve with cream! What could be a more simple, fabulous and delicious way to round off a BBQ.
I hope that this look at the BBQ will inspire you to look at the BBQ differently. Please contact me if you have any questions.
Recipes are available on www.thelatechef.com, or my blog www.thelatechef.wordpress.com and www.pick.com . Please send me any questions you may have to me: paul@thelatechef.com. For information about the Wallingford Food Festival go to: www.wallingfordfoodfestival.co.uk .

Last week I mostly cooked………

Its been a very busy time and my cooking last week started with four tiers for a wedding cake.

However, not a cake but a pork pie cake. Making four tiers or four large pork pies that were to be stacked and presented as part of a wedding celebration was I must admit a bit of a novelty to me but having looked on the web and found a number of butchers etc, who not only make the pork pies but also provide the full service of stacking and dressing the pies, opened my eyes to a new area of catering. I understand large rounds of  cheeses are also used in a similar way.

It seems odd to call it a cake but I suppose it sometimes replaces the traditional wedding cake or it is an addition to the menu at the larger reception that follows the meal after a wedding these days. In many ways it is a great way of celebrating a traditional dish as part of a traditional ceremony in a modern age. It may also hark back to the day when expensive food was not an option and when the more traditional home made recipes held a valued part of our diets and lives.

I enjoyed the process of making the pies. The mix of the meat used a number of cuts:- diced shoulder, minced shoulder, diced belly, hock and streaky bacon. Mixed together with spices and herbs to create a wonderful flavour and marrying well with the meat.

20130408-075508 AM.jpg

This picture shows the inspiration of making the pork pies had on me! I made 3 larger pork pies and 10 individual pork pies for the markets I was at, East Oxford Farmers Market on Saturday and Wolvercote Farmers Market on Sunday. I also made a Chicken and Ham Hock raised pie. I sold out, fabulous! It tells me that there is  an interest in traditional recipes made with local produce. Thanks to all those who bought a piece of my pies.

I am expecting a photo from my client of the pork pies dressed for the wedding. When I get it I will write more about it and put the photo on the blog. My client was happy with the pies as there was over 8KG of pork pie and all of it was eaten on the night!

More reasons to buy local local, cook local, eat local.

With the continuing news on the use of horse meat and the additional news of pork in non pork meals in our prepared and processed foods it is becoming apparent that the processing and the movement of the meat is an unsustainable journey that extends across Europe. This offers the opportunity to put cheaper and potentially lower quality ingredient into these foods by hiding it at any of the multiple points of handling.

As a Chef I find the details depressing and a result of the current legislation and rules governing meat and its processing. It is obvious that the proper safeguards are not in place and do not ensure that the customer gets what they have paid for.

Driving down prices purely to maximise the profit is not sustainable. The responsibility for care of the ingredients being used and the end product being made to right quality and made from the right ingredients is lost in these long links of producers, manufactures and retailers.

The coverage in the media reveals more and more practises that I find reprehensible. If a ready made meal says made with Beef it should have Beef in it! As a customer I feel the retailers have not fulfilled their responsibility of ensuring that the products they source are made from the ingredients on the label. What are the retailers doing to ensure that they live up to this responsibility?  Not much it would appear, profit seems to be the only driving force all the way down the supply chain.

This issue highlights the difficulty for consumers. How do you know for sure what is in the packaging is genuine? You don’t is the simple answer. We should all be asking the retailers with questions about the products they are selling. We should be asking for confirmation that they can prove that the meat ingredient is what is should be in every line of ready prepared meal.

I suggest they put on their websites details of all producers/manufacturers along with the mechanisms they use to ensure the provenance of the products they source. This way we can at least start to see a link in the chain between field, abbattoir, butcher, manufacturer, retailer to the consumer.

In the multi-million $, £ and Euro business that is food production and food manufacturing the consumer has a right to know what they are buying and eating, they are also responsible for what they buy and eat. Therefore the consumer has a duty to themselves and others to push the food industry to be open and transparent in what they produce, manufacture and sell.

In the end this may well be a labelling issue but it highlights the fragility of the system and the lack of safeguards mean that we cannot trust the products we buy as much as we thought we could. I have to have a system that shows how my work processes reduce the risk of contaminating the food I source to produce my products. Alongside this I have record how I process the ingredients, show my process of cooking and storing the food. I also have to record the state of my kitchen equipment and its operation. I do not mind doing this because it demonstrates the fact that I take care in what I do with the ingredients and the environment in the kitchen. I went through my recent inspection in the last week and this makes me feel good from the point of view that I can show to my clients that I have been inspected and found to be working at the highest level.

There will always be a minority of people trying to profit from breaking the law. The consumers have to start using their purchasing power to influence the mindset of the larger supermarket retailers to be clear about the food they source and how it is prepared. Lets not wait for government to take action – consumers lead the way! Challenge your retailers and if you do not like the answer you get change retailer, use your power – the cash you spend on food!

Wallingford Food Festival – growing up fast!

Having started The Late Chef in 2009 and getting involved with local markets to promote my food and catering, I  found a wonderful range of great food and drink producers in Oxfordshire, Berkshire and adjoining counties. All of these producers are passionate and proud of the produce they create. I agree, the quality and excellence of the produce is amazing! I use locally produced ingredients for many of my dishes and for the events that I am asked to cater for.  It is one of the values that I know makes a difference to my clients.

In 2011, after a conversation with one of my producer colleagues, I came up with the idea of starting a food festival to give the food and drink producers an outlet to show off their products. The idea was sold to local organisations, district and town councils and sponsors. The event had funding and a location. I spent time on creating a logo  plus I developed the website.  All was done as cost effectively as possible. The design for the logo was done by a local graphic designer and it captures everything about the festival, simply, it is all about food and drink.

Wallingford Food Festival Logo

Festival Logo

From idea to event in ten weeks! The result was a festival that had 24 producers exhibiting, 6 local sponsors and a number of cooking demos and presentations on growing vegetables, making bread, beer and so on. Over 1500 visitors attended that first festival.

In 2012 the festival was bigger and we were blessed with the sunniest and hottest day of the year thus far. Around 2500 visitors enjoyed a day out at the festival. Over 40 producers showed off their products and five great chefs cooking for us including Gary Jones from Le Manior aux Q’uat Saisons.  The result was fantastic, especially helped with the addition of the sponsors of the demo kitchen, VZUG. What a perfect day……

Gary Jones and team from Le Manoir

Gary Jones and team

On top of all this fantastic produce, chefs, sponsors etc we had Jo Thoenes from BBC Radio Oxford hosting the chefs demos and BBC Radio Oxford Saturday morning show with Phil Gayle and Lou Hannan was broadcast from the festival!

It was suggested to me that I should enter the festival into the Tourism South Awards. I checked the website and filled in the forms. That was in June.

Beautiful South Awards - Nominated Finalist

Last week an email arrived, informing me that the Wallingford Food Festival had been nominated as finalist in the Tourism Events category! The news left me speechless but then the more I have thought about it the better it gets. The festival has been running for two years. It has grown and it is financially self-supporting. The effort by my colleagues and volunteers has been recognised by this nomination.  It acknowledges the fact that people have taken their time and effort to put on an event that people want to come to  meet producers, taste good food and watch the chefs cook with the ingredients available from the producers around the festival.

It is an event that, I hope, Wallingford is proud of and will continue to support in future years. It showcases the best of the food available locally, the chefs who cook it, the chance to taste all of the different types of food produced locally. The festival also aims to work with local businesses and all bar one of the sponsors is a local company that has provided services, support or cash or a mix of all three.

The plans for 2013 Wallingford Food Festival are now well underway and when we know the final result of our nomination (28th November) we will be announcing more details about next years festival.  The nomination is a spur to keep building the foundations for a great event that the people can be part of or just visit, but it also gives the festival some wider profile and should help to generate more visitors to not only the festival but also the town.

The 2012 Festival just before gates opened to the public.

Wish us luck for the results on the 28th November!

If you would like to know more about the festival please go to the website:-

www.wallingfordfoodfestival.co.uk

You can follow on Twitter @Wallingfoodfest

and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wallingfordfoodfestival

Please follow the festival on Twitter and or Facebook.

For details of the awards go to:- www.beautifulsouthawards.co.uk

Is Cooking work or art?

I have been asked many times what do I do for a living. I generally take the line of least resistance and say caterer. I am now beginning to think that this term doesn’t really cover it all. Looking at a number of my recent clients events I have organised music, marquees, tables, chairs, crockery, glasses, cutlery etc. None of these are cooking. Some may be connected to cooking but in reality they have nothing to do with the process of cooking.

So what should I call myself?

My business card says “Chef and Jolly Nice Chap” which I hope most people will recognise. But does it cover the real business of cooking? I am a great fan of  Franck Pontais. Many will not have heard of Franck. He is a chef who learned his craft in Paris and is now in the UK making a name for himself with Verrines and Terrines. This is his trademark and his book of the same name is fabulous. He now calls himself a Kitchen Artist. When you look at his creations in the book you will understand why.

Mullet and Mussel Verrine cooked at the Oxford Foodie Festival 2012

My chef heroes include Raymond Blanc, Thomas Keller, Gary Rhodes, Gary Jones, and writers such as Elizabeth David. Many more chefs and writers books are on my bookshelf. I use many of them regularly to help me create dining experiences for my clients.
These chefs and writers convey their passion for food, ingredients and regions where great recipes are handed down and developed still. Many of them I would call a “Kitchen Artist” because once the techniques and technical processes are completed the result still comes down to the presentation and appeal of the food on the plate!

Pear Poached in Beetroot Jus with Plums

Pear Poached in Beetroot Jus with Baked Plums

I broadcast regularly on BBC Radio Oxford and in providing the recipes based on seasonality, availability and simplicity I find that cooking live on air has a level of immediacy which adds to the recipe, hopefully making it more real for the listener. Part of this process is about being creative and also making sure that the recipes have that key element, they are easy to do at home.

Lemoncello Creme Brulee with Redcurrants

Lemoncello Creme Brulee with Redcurrants

Well perhaps calling myself a Kitchen Artist might raise an eyebrow with a number of close friends and family but I think describing myself as a caterer does not do what I do justice. I will certainly describe myself as a Chef and look for some other name that reflects not only the process of cooking but also the creativity of cookery. Let me know if you have any suitable alternatives for the term, Chef. Look forward to hearing from you.

Oh, by the way,  I have  started to publish a series of illustrated recipe guides on Amazon for the Kindle. Have a look in the Kindle Shop searching on Paul Bellchambers.