Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Christmas day

The family are coming to our house on Christmas day. This is lovely. It's a recent change of plan, but I have help at hand in the form of Bridget and Jeremy who live with me. It's much much easier for someone who cooks for a living to produce Christmas dinner, than it is for someone with less experience. HOWEVER, there are factors which may influence the outcome. Firstly, I never drink alcohol during service at work, and I almost certainly will on Saturday. Secondly, I have a fully equipped kitchen in The Bay Tree.....not so at home. The next thing is that I hardly ever cook at home for others because I am usually at The Bay Tree, and the standard of my home assistants may not be quite what I am used to.
 It will all be grand though. My timings might not be quite right, but we will have the same meal we always have, with some nice wine, followed by mother's Christmas brandy soused  pud with brandy butter.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

to succeed makes you clever: to fail makes you wise!

The most memorable sight this week was Glen's face when, about an hour after he had put a batch of Christmas puddings in the oven (and they take quite a lot of preparation) I went to use the food processor and found the 12 ounces of bread crumbs he had made but omitted to add to the pudding mix. When I asked what these bread crumbs were for, his jaw dropped and his eyes widened and possibly even dampened a little. His paralysis was brief but discernable, but then we both went into action and, although unsure whether this was the right thing to do, we emptied out each individual Christmas pudding, remixed the now hot fruit, spices, eggs, butter and sugar adding the bread crumbs, and then repotted them, and got them back into the oven.
I am now snowed in at Killinchy where I spend my weekends, so I haven't seen the finished puddings. Hopefully they will have been forgiving.
I have been making this recipe for Christmas pudding for about 35 years. It came from my mother and doesn't have any suet in it, which I think makes it a bit lighter. My brother also claims to make our mother's Christmas pudding in his restaurant.........I think he must have deviated somewhere from the original, as he has quite a different result.
Yes, my brother and I both have restaurants, and they are within five miles of each other. We share quite a lot of customers, and are looking forward to doing some joint marketing in 2011. I include the (real!)pudding recipe here:
1/2 lb currants
1/2lb raisins
1/2lb sultanas
3/4 tin Guinness
1/4 lb mixed peel
rind and juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp mixed spice
1/2 lb butter
1/2 lb soft brown sugar
4 eggs beaten
2 oz plain flour
2 oz blanched almonds
6 oz white bread crumbs

Soak the fruit in the Guinness overnight.
Cream the butter and sugar until light.
Add the eggs, gently.
Mix the dry ingredients, and then mix everything together.
Line two small or one large pudding bowl with greaseproof paper.
Fill the bowl to within a centimeter of the top.
Cover with pleated greaseproof paper, and secure with string.
Place on a trivet in a saucepan, add water to half way up the bowl.
Cover tightly and steam for 4 or 5 hours, checking the water every half hour or so.
In The Bay Tree I now make individual puddings in a steamer in the oven

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Tuesdays are long

I must have just become a bit slow, but I didn't get through my list tonight. The pheasant terrine didn't get made....however the meringues, Christmas puddings, mincemeat cheesecake, and cranberry and walnut torte/pie did. It often happens that one task needs several others to be performed prior to it being possible for that task to be achieved. Hence, the cheesecake needed more sweet mince to be made. The cranberry and walnut needed sable pastry made, rolled out and sealed, and the Christmas puddings needed me to find and clean all the dariole moulds from several corners of the kitchen. All of this is easier to achieve when I am alone in the kitchen on a Tuesday night, but it makes a long day for an auld girl! I always do service on a Tuesday lunchtime, and then cleaning on Tuesday afternoon. However I'm home now and sitting down. Early start tomorrow to make the cinnamon scones!

Sunday, 12 December 2010


About 5 years ago, in November, the Coffee Yard and Yard Gallery opened up a few doors away from us. It was modern, smart, and spacious. We were well established at the time, and we had weathered the opening of several other cafes and restaurants in the town. However, this was right next door, and they seemed so organised. We felt threatened. The Bay Tree emptied while all our customers tried out the new place, and what they had to offer. It was understandable. William wanted to compete with them, but I felt that that was a red herring. I felt it was important to keep doing what we had always done, but to try to do it better. The smart new place beside us forced us to smarten and tidy ourselves up a bit, modernise a bit, and think about what our customers wanted from us. I think it made us take ourselves more seriously. I certainly felt that I loved The Bay Tree far too much to allow ourselves to be swallowed up by competition. The Bay Tree gradually filled up again in the following weeks, and we felt a bit more reassured. Then, in the week between Christmas and the new year, the Coffee Yard took a few days off. The result of that was that we got all their customers as well as our own, and we found ourselves fervently wishing for them to reopen! That was the first breaking of the ice between us. Another milestone in our relationship was the borrowing of some borrowing from them, not the other way round. Lending and borrowing between neighbours is a trusting and friendly experience(a better word escapes me) and the thaw continued. We both now frequent each others' establishments, William and I always have meetings in the Coffee Yard, and Jim and Nikki quite often have dinner in The Bay Tree on Saturday nights.
However, what has prompted me to write about all this today is that the staff of the Coffee Yard had their Christmas party in The Bay Tree last night. I was touched and gratified that they should have chosen their neighbours for this occasion, and really hope they had a good evening. I know the chefs were super organised for the event.
We are now officially friends!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

snow and grandaughter

the reason for my silence is my new grandaughter Anna. She arrived punctually, on her due date, and without delay....and we are all delighted with her, with the possible exception of Ilya who now has to share his beloved mama. However, he is having fun in the snow and ice, and is enjoying having papa home on paternity leave.
The photo above is of Rab, emerging from our veg store. On the whole, restaurant life in the snow is a lot simpler than in the height of a hot summer, and our veg store outside is, for the moment a walk-in fridge, and there is refridgeration everywhere! Plus, the cold makes people hungry. We are always very aware of the weather and what people might feel like eating when we are deciding on the day's menu.There aren't too many salad orders at the moment! and yes, lots of soup. We had fennel soup today with the secret ingredient of parsnip in it to give it some body. The roast turkey dinners continue to appeal...I love all those flavours....and then, because of the cold, we DESERVE a desert. There is going to have to be a serious amount of exercise after Christmas if I am to do the Mourne Marathon thing in June, even if its just at a walk.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

new menu

Sheila, who makes most of the cinnamon scones and breakfasts, had a day off today, so I was in at 7 for scone making, and Jonny at 8 for breakfasts....yes, it took 2 of us to cover for Sheila!
It's the 1st December, so roast turkey was on the menu at lunch time for the first time this year. We serve roast breast of turkey with 2 stuffings, roast potatoes, brussel sprouts, bacon rolls, and cranberry and orange relish. The latter is a delicious thing, made with fresh cranberries whizzed up with a whole orange, a Bramley apple, a whole lemon and some sugar. The meal is reassuringly traditional, and during the month of December I never tire of those flavours. However, I can assert, absolutely, that, after 25th December, I will not eat another brussel sprout until 1st December 2011.  Poor brussel sprouts.
The new evening menu started this evening, causing stress and alarm. New menus are full of pitfalls, whatever the extent of planning and preparation, and they always make chefs a bit nervous. Everyone has perhaps a slightly different notion of how a dish should come together in terms of taste and presentation, and there isn't a right or wrong way. I need to work with a dish, and taste little mini versions of it to make my decisions. I am largely self taught, and chefs that come to work for me are ofcourse influenced by other chefs they have worked with, so we are all coming from different directions. It will all be sorted out in the coming weeks!

Saturday, 27 November 2010


I have always quite enjoyed Saturdays in The Bay Tree, because Fridays are over. There is a lot of work to do on a Friday, and Saturdays are a bit more relaxed. It's hectic, but still a bit more relaxed. Today lots of things went machine broke down (it often does on a Saturday), superviser slept in, and the electricity went off for about 30 minutes at the height of the morning melee, so there was no till, no coffee machine, no microwave, no toaster, no heater, no lights......but yes a gas cooker, so we could still cook breakfasts. I think you have to quite enjoy a crisis to be a restaurant owner.....I love to find alternative ways, and am far too good at making do. I was nevertheless relieved when the lights came back on and things returned to normal. Lunch was quite quiet: everyone must be shopping elsewhere or be suffering from the cold. Thought I would have been able to leave during the afternoon, but tasks expanded to fill time available, and it was after 6 when I found my keys and defrosted the car windscreen. I'm working tomorrow lunch too, so not too much wine tonight.

Thursday, 25 November 2010


It has been a good week....I did lunch service with Kate and Jonny the head chef on Tuesday. It was steady and quite fun. Then a day off yesterday when I took my grandson out for the morning with a friend and her grandson. I must say that my grandson was much more easily managed than I remember my son to be! Maybe that will change.
Today I got a batch of sweetmince made in preparation for 24 days of mince pie making.I used the recipe from my Goodhousekeeping book and include it here:
1lb each of raisins, currants, sultanas and mixed peel, all chopped up together
1.5lb finely diced cooking apple
4oz chopped or flaked almonds
1lb soft brown sugar
2 lemons, rind and juice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
8oz shredded suet
Just mix everything up together, and store it for a week or so before using.
The feedback I refer to in the title of today's post is  because a kind person rang us up this afternoon to say she felt moved to contact us because she had such a delicious meal last night! How nice was that? She had our coley dish which is one that I am particularly pleased with.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

new hazlenut dressing recipe

I am a great fan of Skye Gyngell having been to a cookery demonstration by her during the summer at Ballymaloe. I buy the Independent on Sunday because she writes in it, and today I had a Skye inspired salad on the menu. Here is the hazlenut dressing recipe:

100g/3.5 oz whole hazlenuts, toasted,skinned and pounded
2 anchovies
1 tbs Dijon mustard
1 tbs red wine vinegar
120ml/4fl oz extra virgin olive oil
and we added the grated rind of half an orange

Pound the anchovies and mustard together in a pestle and mortar, and add everything else. Season if necessary.
Our salad was of roasted beetroot, broccoli, Fivemiletown goats cheese and orange slices, with the hazlenut dressing, and, despite the cold weather, it was quite popular......well, I made about 5 out of the 70 orders we had, whatever percentage that is. My brain doesn't do percentages.
We aren't open on Tuesday nights for dinner, so Tuesday afternoon is kitchen scrubbing day when all the fridges are pulled out, the filter in the extractor fan is changed, and as much as possible is 'rationalised' and cleaned. I had planned to get my first batch of Christmas puddings in the oven at about 3pm, but only managed this at 6pm. I make individual puddings now, easier to make and easier to serve than the larger ones I used to battle with. I then made shortbread and wheatmeal biscuits for the week, and meringues for tomorrow, and left Mandy to take out the Christmas puds and meringues. I was rushing to get home for 8pm to go to a gig with Bridget and Jeremy. They were going to see The Tallest Man on Earth, but they mentioned that it would probably be that point, I ran out of steam, and knew I couldn't stand up for another 2 hours. I also realised that were I to be seated, I would probably fall asleep, so I stayed at home and had a glass of brandy.

Monday, 22 November 2010


I hope to use this blog as a diary and a means of helping to order my thoughts. I want to talk about the food of the moment at The Bay Tree, taste combinations I have found that work, new recipes, interesting cookery writers, teamwork in the kitchen (or not, as the case may be!)what I am teaching my cookery pupil.......and all sorts  of things like this.This week I must think about the definitive stirfry as my pupil (pupil P)wants to master this.