Private Chef

We are very blessed to have a fantastic set of friends that like us, appreciate good food and wine.  One of these friends was about to celebrate their birthday and rather than us going to a restaurant for fantastic food, we had the fantastic food come to us by hiring a private chef. Chef Neil, treated us to a superb evening of divine food.

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Our starter was insanely good; Tartar of mackerel with pickled cucumber and citrus cream. It was terrific, I was a little unsure about having the cream with the mackerel but it lifted the flavours so well. We paired this with bottle of Sancerre.

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Our main course was pan-friend wood pigeon in butter with turnip and prune gratin and sweet roast onion. We paired this with either Chardonnay or Beajolais. It was tremendous, the wood pigeon was perfectly cooked – rare, which is how we like it. The gratin was delicious too.

For dessert we had raspberry and champagne jelly with sweet almond cream. The sweet almond cream was divine. We paired this with Bollinger champagne.

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We then had an English cheeseboard with tomato chutney and port.

You might think that having someone come into your house and cook would be quite invasive but it wasn’t at all. Chef Neil was friendly, he didn’t mind us nosing in the kitchen and was an absolute professional. It was lovely to finish dinner and not have a messy kitchen to contend with.

There were 8 of us and we all paid £40, we provided the wine ourselves. For incredible quality food, this was much cheaper than going out and we could make as much noise as wanted to, drink as much wine as we wanted and didn’t have to worry about trains home etc.

If you’re looking for a fantastic and memorable evening, we would all  recommend the experience.

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Come Dine with Me

DACWM Menu

All foodies love watching Channel 4’s ‘Come Dine with Me‘ and I have wanted to host my own ‘Come Dine with Me’ style dinner party for a while and we have decided to do just that. Three sets of friends; three nights. Ours was the first, the friends we are competing with are from overseas, so we decided to go for a ‘Best of British’ menu. The (wonderful) menu was designed by Toby.

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To start we had pimms and prosecco cocktails with a cucumber garnish and some ‘British themed’ canapes; mackerel pate, mini prawn cocktails, sausage rolls and some oyster and vinegar crisps made by the ‘Kent Crisps‘ company, a great start to the evening (we thought). Only the cocktails are pictured as we gobbled down the canapes far to quickly for any photography to take place…

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Our starter was a Crab and Salmon Tian. We went to Whitstable to source the crab, we wanted everything to be local where possible. I am usually awful with presentation so these little beauties made me feel a little better about that…

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Next up, our main course; Roast rack of Lamb with dauphinoise potatoes and redcurrant jus (gravy for us common folk). We served the lamb with green beans and carrots. The lamb was from our fantastic local butchers, Glover’s Farm in Hartley. As I suck at presentation, we put the vegetables in ‘help yourself’ dishes – I recommend this to those that can cook but not serve.

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Dessert was a ‘Trio of English Desserts’; a strawberries and cream cheesecake, cherry bakewell tart and a raspberry cranachan. My favourite here is the strawberries and cream cheesecake, Toby prefers the bakewell tart. I made the bakwell and cheesecakes the day before to ease the pressure on the day. Again, we can say that we thought that were delicious but we will have to wait and see, the proof is in the pudding (ha).

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We then had a cheese course, the cheese was from a fantastic farmer’s market in Shipbourne and a stall called Traditional Cheese Dairy. We had two award winning cheeses including a British sheep cheese and a standard cheddar for the less adventurous. We teamed this with some chutney and quince jelly.

We tried to keep our alcohol British where possible, hence adding the Pimms to the prosecco. We also had Chapel Down‘s Flint Dry, Biddenden vineyards ‘Gribble Bridge’, The Traveling Apothecary’s Cucumber infused gin, Millis Brewing’s Gravesend Guzzler and some English distilled raspberry liqueur.

We have no idea how we scored yet, the last night is still to come but it has been great fun. We just went to one of the other dinner parties and feasted upon a multitude of Australian delights including; prawn, avocado and mango salad, kangaroo and crocodile burgers – it was terrific. We are looking forward to the last night – a “French-Polynesian menu, we will let you know how we score….

Wheelers

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On a casual Thursday of the half-term, we decided to head down to Wheelers Oyster Bar in Whitstable to sample some of what has often been described as ‘one of the best seafood restaurants in the country’. Booking is usually a waiting game but we were fortunate enough to get a last minute cancellation. We were salivating at the thought of what we we were going to eat…

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From the outside, Wheelers is an eccentric looking pink building that is home to a quaint oyster bar with many sea treats on ice. You can go in and order food to take away and there is also a small oyster bar that works on a first come, first served basis. Behind that is what can only be described as a living room stuck in 1945,  this is the restaurant, seating about 16 at maximum. It is incredibly homely and we have not eaten anywhere like this before, perhaps other than our own Grandma’s living room. There are four sittings throughout the day, we were lucky enough to get in for lunch at 1pm, the other sittings are 3pm, 5pm and 7pm.

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The first thing out the kitchen was a  helping of homemade granary and rosemary bread served with pesto and olive oil. The bread was delicious. The menu is quite small and changes regularly depending on what has been caught and what is in season.

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Toby had half a dozen oysters, served simply with lemon. Amazing. He has always enjoyed oysters and these were no exception. All washed down with some Oyster Stout, also from Whitstable. The restaurant is a ‘bring your own’ – another plus in our books.

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Well damn, we were a bit too eager to start eating at this point, so the photography suffered, but amongst the pixels above is a crab cake and lobster spring roll with a lemon celeriac roulade. It was outstanding. The portion was very generous. This is what I ate, I came home looking up crab cake recipes, I loved it. Damn Toby’s poor photography skills.

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Wheelers has no alcohol license, so it is a ‘bring your own’. This is absolutely no issue as there is an independent ‘Offy‘ over the road with a stellar selection of wines and beers, many of them local. We opted for a firm favourite of ours: Flint Dry from Chapel Down, Tenterden, Kent.

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Toby’s main was stone bass with parma ham, asparagus and fondant potatoes. It was tremendous! We did that sad thing that couples do where they change main half way through. I had to stop myself from eating the rest of it.

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I went for pollock and salt and pepper squid rings on a bed of chorizo, spinach and mash potato. It was sensational. The dish was around £18.50 but it felt completely worth the money, an excellent helping of fish. To be honest, I am running out of adjectives to describe how great the food is at Wheelers.

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We usually prefer starters to desserts but we had heard that the desserts here were fantastic. We went for a rhubarb savarin with rhubarb and pink champagne sorbet. It was sensational, fresh, seasonal and delicious.

All in all, we left feeling very happy. Our bill came to a respectable £58 (this doesn’t include drinks as it is a ‘bring your own’), we were happy to pay that for local, seasonal and delicious food. The thing with Wheelers is that it is not just a fish restaurant, it is literally like eating in your Grandma’s front room, the service was fantastic, the staff were very pleasant and seemed proud of their food – they have every reason to be!

We absolutely recommend to Wheelers to any seafood lover or someone looking for something a little different. The menu only contains seafood, so do remember that if any of your friends dislike seafood or are vegetarian. We are already thinking about booking in again over the summer…

Pumpkin Cheesecake

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For North Americans especially, Pumpkin is a quintessential autumnal flavour, and we love it too. Having been wowed by pumpkin cheesecakes in America and sampling delicious pumpkin pie from Canadians, we decided to try our hand at the former…

Ingredients

  • 400g ginger nut biscuits
  • 140g melted butter
  • 110g dark brown sugar
  • 600g cream cheese
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 1tsp ground ginger
  • 2tsp cinnamon
  • 3 eggs
  • 70g double cream
  • Can of pumpkin puree (we found this in Waitrose)
  • Whipped cream, maple syrup and pumpkin seeds for the topping

Method

  1. Crush the biscuits until they resemble breadcrumbs. Melt the butter on a hob.
  2. Combine the melted butter and biscuits to form the base of your cheesecake, press into your cheesecake tin and bake at 170 degrees for 5 minutes, allow to cool.
  3. Turn the oven down to 120 degrees and beat the sugar, cream cheese, vanilla extract, cinnamon and ginger,
  4. Add the eggs and double cream, beat well.
  5. Add the pumpkin puree, have  taste and add more cinnamon or ginger if you like.
  6. Add this mix to the cheesecake base and bake for one hour.
  7. Allow to cool and then top with whipped cream, pumpkin seeds and maple syrup.

This has to be one of the best cheesecakes I have made to date, the almost savoury flavour really makes for a wonderful desert if you do not have a particularly sweet tooth.

Anzac Biscuits

Anzac biscuits were originally made to send to Army Corps from Australia and New Zealand, serving in Gallipoli. Although ‘Anzac day‘ is traditionally celebrated in Australia and New Zealand, on the 25th of April, I decided to bake these delcious biscuits for Remembrance Sunday, November 11th. I also added some raisons to my batch.

Ingredients

  • 85g porridge oats
  • 85g desiccated coconut
  • 100g plain flour
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 100g butter
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 60g raisons or sultanas (optional)

Method

  1. Heat oven to 180C.
  2. Measure out the oats, coconut, flour, baking powder and sugar in a bowl.
  3. Melt the butter in a small pan and stir in the golden syrup.
  4. Once the butter and golden syrup has melted, pour this into your bowl of dry ingredients. Add raisons if you are using them. Mix the biscuit dough well.
  5. Take small handfuls of the mixture and make a little patty in your hand, put these on greaseproof paper and bake for about 10 minutes.
  6. Allow to cool and enjoy!

Banoffee Pie

It really annoys me when people say things like, ‘I really can’t cook’. Anyone can cook, they just have to try. There are plenty of tasty meals and treats that require minimum effort for maximum taste, Banoffee pie is one of these.

To start with, you need a biscuit base. You can use digestives, but I prefer the humble ginger nut biscuit as it adds a little more bite. Put a packet of the biscuits into a food bag and beat them to death, they will soon resemble bread crumbs. Melt around 100g butter, mix this in with the breadcrumb biscuits and press into the bottom of your dish. Chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Now, you need the caramel filling. If you are in a hurry, use Carnation Caramel, all ready for you to go. Alternatively, boil a can of condensed milk in water for around an hour, it will become delicious caramel! Spread the caramel onto your biscuit base, then add sliced bananas. Ripe bananas are best.

Now, whip your double cream. I like to add a teaspoon of vanilla essence and around 25g icing sugar. Spread the cream onto your caramel/banana base. I like to add some cadbury flake on top of the cream for extra flavour and decoration.

You can make one big banoffee pie, or individual smaller ones. It is a simple, but tasty desert, that is sure to satisfy everyone that eats it.

Bea’s of Bloomsbury

Bea’s of Bloomsbury is a fantastic place to go for Afternoon Tea! A friend and I enjoyed a delicious plate of baguettes, followed by some of the best cakes and scones, I have EVER eaten.

Service was fantastic , we were seen to straight away and given a choice of teas to choose from. The teas are all real leaf teas and more hot water is offered, so there is no need to buy another cup.

A plate of three mini baguettes was then presented to each of, the bread was fantastic quality and each baguette was so tasty, my favourite was the salami and red pepper pesto.

Following this, we were presented with a selection of cakes: blondies, two different types of brownies, scones, a raspberry cupcake, a dark chocolate cupcake and other mini cakes. Everything was delicious, I have no complaints at all, and being a keen baker I usually pick up on a dry cake.

The sponge on the two cupcakes literally fell apart, the raspberry cupcake, actually tasted like raspberry! The dark chocolate frosting was like ganache, it was the kind of thing you eat and then are left speechless for a while….

The brownies were lovely and gooey inside. The scones were not dry but absolutely delicious, by this point we were struggling to finish.

I would definitely recommend Bea’s of Bloomsbury, to anyone wanting a delicious afternoon tea, somewhere that is a little less crowded than the places you might usually think to go. Booking is definitely best!

My one issue was that they did not offer champagne. I am planning to buy the cookbook, so watch this space for the recipes…