Friday, 2 December 2011

wedding and christmas

It's been a long time since I've been on my blog, and, like running and ironing and everything else, the longer you leave it the harder it is.But it's Friday night, and I ......well, here I am.
The wedding, with which I was a bit preoccupied in previous posts, was marvellous. We very luckily selected the one good weekend of the summer. Bridget had put in a lot of planning and effort to make everything pretty, and I had agonised about the garden and to a lesser extent, about the food. Dear brother Nick helped us out with the drink. Jeremy, the groom is a musician, so that was the music sorted, and Bridget's cousin Ben, Nick's son, makes music videos, and so has captured the day on film. It now all seems so easy! It was really lovely.
Now, it's back to The Bay Tree. Tonight was the first night of the new menu which is a bit Christmassy. First nights are always a bit tricky, and there are maybe a few forgotten bits and the first turkey customer only got one of the promised two stuffings (a lost in the fridge situation), but they did get bread sauce which they weren't expecting.Our Christmas dinners are good....homely and good. I always hope that the providers of the great meal on 25th December get to come to The Bay Tree in the weeks beforehand and enjoy turkey etc that they haven't had to prepare themselves.
That's all for now, but hopefully I've got going again....we have lots going on.
The photo is from the wedding day, and features mainly Rudbeckia, but also a fab Dahlia that Bridget carried, some white Larkspur, which I loved, and a gorgeous lemon Sunflower all of which I shall grow again.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

more gardening

Quite a lot of the seedlings mentioned in my last post have found homes. Not all of them have survived the lack of rain, and watering is an onorous evening task. No hose here. The water barrels are all empty. However we do have a well in the vegetable garden. Not a well with a pump or anything convenient like that. We chuck a watering can with a rock in it into the well, holding on to the rope which is attached to it. We hold the watering can under the water with a stick until it is full. Then we haul it back up the steps of the well losing quite a bit of the water on the way, and then  set off to water one of the 30 rows, and repeat the process many more times. It's rustic! But things are growing and it's looking good.
I have been having a go at growing pea shoots and micro leaves in the green house. I have sprouted seeds for years now, and they are sometimes on our super salads at The Bay Tree. While sprouting seeds just involves rinsing the seeds twice a day, the micro leaves are grown very thickly in compost. I have a lovely box of purple basil seedlings or micro leaves, which i can't bring myself to cut so gorgeous are they. The other box of Basil I didn't manage to sow thickly enough, so they aren't quite so successful. I must keep sowing and keep them coming.
The Bay Tree is entering summer mode. We will be experimenting with lighter dishes, and I will be looking up Skye Gyngell and Nigella Lawson for inspiration.Maybe even Delia might help. When designing menus, I like to think what I personally would want to eat on a night, or lunch, out. We want to offer light, tasty and gutsy food, using ,sometimes, unusual ingredients, and we need to be able to serve it quickly and easily. My brother Nick says that a dish should have no more than 3 parts so that it can be accomplished speedily. I always bear this in mind.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011


Well, once again, I come to my blog tardily. It's not that I am not at The Bay Tree as much as usual, or that I am not trying new recipes and food combinations, or that Jonny (chef) and I havn't been working on the new evening menu. No, all these things are as normal. However, my greenhouse, outside my greenhouse and my car are all overflowing with seedlings, many of which I now need to get into the ground or pots. I hardly know where to start, and I can't decide which would look best where. And then there is the  large amount of soil preparation also needed ....Sundays are spent pulling out ground elder and dividing yet more plants (plus mixing and making compost with all the peelings from The Bay Tree)
There seems to be so much to do....aaaaagh, I'm in a frustrating paralysis. The garden is at a very demanding stage of the year, and were you to see it, you wouldn't think I cared about it at all, so messy is it. Tidiness doesn't come naturally to me, and this applies to the kitchen too.. I feel I can achieve more by just blasting on and getting everything done, but now that I share the kitchen with other chefs.....well, lets just say they disagree. I'm self taught, and didn't learn in the tyrannical regime of a hierarchical kitchen. So, you are reading the blog of an old dog learning new tricks. This is good for me, but is still work in progress.There is one small corner of the kitchen that now actually offends me when its messy, so I can honestly say I keep that half a square metre very nicely, but I need to start having those feelings about the whole kitchen at work, and at home, and in both my gardens.
The reason for all the seedlings is ofcourse the wedding, and this is why its a bit important that they should be put in the right place, although William did point out that no one is going to leave the wedding saying 'nice wedding, shame about the plants'. I'm looking forward to 2 days in the garden at Easter, and hopefully that will make me feel I'm more on track.
I must just finally report....that Simnel cakes have been made (ref my last blog). We even made some cup cake sized ones, which look great, but couldn't carry the required 11 marzipan balls. We will try Lorraine Pascale's Rum and Pear Simnel cake from the Observer Food Monthly magazine next...sounds great.

This is a photo of Jonny the chef, chopping scallions, and in the background you can see the very precious soup whizzer.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Mother's Day and Easter

It's a month since I last wrote in my blog....I let the momentum go, and I've misplaced my camera. However The Bay Tree and I are both well. I have been using Camelias from William and Tanya's garden for the tables for the last week or so, and although they don't last very long (3 days max), they do look great at first. I used them on Mother's day first of all.
 We offered a nice lunch menu for Mother's day, and had a lot of bookings, even turned a few people away, but were then a bit disappointed when some of the bookings were expecting breakfast, not lunch. Communication and organisation problems. We'll do better next year!
My cup cakes are slowly improving. I have learnt a new little trick with an apple corer. That is to remove the centre with the corer, and insert some lemon curd or fruit or some other tasty stuff, put the little tuft back and then pipe icing over the now uneven top. It works brilliantly. I am becoming more assertive with the piping bag. Cup cakes apart, I am going to make a Simnel cake in the next few days, with its eleven balls of marzipan on top, representing the eleven apostles who went to heaven. I wonder if it will sell. Maybe it's not naughty enough. If I had to choose between Pecan pie and Simnel cake, I would definately go for Pecan pie.

Sunday, 6 March 2011


I'm at the cottage after a fortnight of long houred days at work. I have really enjoyed being in the kitchen a lot (I'm supposed to be semi retired). I love being in control of the day time menu, creating new dishes, buying in new products. However, when Glen asked me to swap days and work today (Sunday) I knew I just couldn't do it. Most unusual for me to say no to anyone.... customers, staff or family, but I know my limits!. So here I am, with the fire lit, and the newspapers strewn around me. I always read Nigel Slater in The Observer, Diana Henry in The Sunday Telegraph, and Skye Gyngell in The Independent, and between them, they keep me thinking about foodie things. Nigel came up with a buckwheat pancake recipe which I want to record here. Hopefully they will be on our menu next week. (I haven't read any books by David Tannis, but he is the author of Heart of the Artichoke)

serves 4
1 cup/160g buckwheat flour
1/2cup/65g plain flour
2 eggs
21/2cups/600ml milk
1/4cup/45g roasted buckwheat groats, finely ground in a coffee grinder
a couple of tablespoons melted butter
6 slices ham
2 handfuls grated comte or gruyere cheese

Whisk together the flours,eggs milk, salt and groats. Put the batter in the fridge for 2 hours or over night. Heat a frying pan over a medium heat. Rub a little butter around the pan with a paper towel, and ladle in some batter to just cover the pan. Let the galette brown on one side, then flip it over. Then repeat with the rest of the batter.
To fill the galettes, lay each one top-side down, place a slice of ham on top, sprinkle with cheese, and fold. Put the galettes on a baking sheet and drizzle with melted butter. Put in a preheated oven (200c/gas5) until crisp. Serve with salad.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Go! Bay Tree

We have had our take away shop for almost 2 years now. It is located just opposite The Bay Tree door, within the courtyard. We sell primarily cinnamon scones, but also soup, chowder and sandwiches. Ideally, we sell anything that we serve in the restaurant, and, also ideally, we make some things in Go! that we don't serve in the restaurant. We have been experimenting with new flavours of cinnamon scones....currently we make apple ones. People are curious-ish, but prefer the old favourites. The difficulty with Go! is that there isn't quite enough space to bake easily. Storage is another problem, as take away needs a lot of packaging. HOWEVER, I love our take away, and feel it needs more attention, more research and more application. To this end I have bought 3 new cake books on Amazon.....Lorraine Pascale (who makes it all so easy on TV), a new Hummingbird book, and one other whose name I have forgotten, and which I probably didn't need.
I am still making the red velvet cup cakes, but need to find a source of red food colouring in larger quantities. Must phone cash and carry today about that. I saw a great cup cake stall at a market in Manchester city centre a couple of weekends ago, and had to walk past several times memorising the flavour combinations, and then scribbling tham down! I obviously havn't got to the creative stage of cup cake making, as I still need so much inspiration from others. I shall keep working at them.....I think William is coming round to the idea (see second last post)

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Tuesday seems to be blog day

In 2006, in the white Bay Tree book, I wrote 'For years I fought against having systems. I felt they were soulless, that they suffocated spontaneity and that they would make The Bay Tree predictable: I was wrong! My lack of systems made me predictably chaotic and meant that I achieved a fraction of what we all achieve now. The evolution of the meringue is a good example. As you know, meringues need a very low temperature to cook, but they must go in at exactly the right temperature and remain undisturbed for the right length of time. In a busy kitchen with only one oven, that is just not possible before or during lunchtime, so the system is to make them at 2.30 at the end of lunch, set the timer, and John the wonderful dishwasher turns them off if I have gone running. It's the perfect slot, and the system provides us with an appealing, simple to serve dessert ready for the next day.'
So now, my system is to write my blog on a Tuesday....I'm not happy that it's always the same day, but it does make it happen.
Planning is equally important as the achievement of systems, and I must now plan both my menu for tomorrow lunch and my 'girl's' evening menu for tomorrow night (that's at home, not at The Bay Tree).We will be repeating today's roast loin of pork with roast potatoes and Nick's honey and ginger sauce, as we got lots of compliments for it.

Below is a photo of my latest batch of red velvet cupcakes. At least they are red.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

red velvet cupcakes

I have started to make cup cakes for our take away shop (go! bay tree). This is in spite of William's abhorrance of them, and total discouragement of any activity in the direction of producing them.The thing is.... I really like the cake part of cup cakes, but the icing is what makes them special, and I often find it a bit sweet. To make cup cakes ( or buns as I would have called them)  look desirable, you really have to go to town with the topping. This isn't my forte.
Anyway, I have the lovely Hummingbird cook book, and every now and again I hit on a new recipe to try, and the latest one is the red velvet cupcake. You use an incredible amount of red food colouring....20 grams to a mixture that only has one egg, and my first effort was quite successful in terms of the cake, but the icing wasn't voluptuous enough. My third batch didn't even manage to be red, so they are just labelled as mere cup cakes, and, to be honest, 'voluptuousness' is still absent.
I saw lovely red velvet cup cakes in Tescos this evening.....
Maybe Olwen from 'in the gateaux' could give me some tips?

Sunday, 30 January 2011


My daughter, bridget, is getting married in August, and we really want to try to grow the flowers for the wedding. We are not aiming for posh arrangements, as we will be in a field, but I would like to think I could manage to produce quantities of sweet pea, cosmos, larkspur, dahlias etc. Sarah Raven has become my mentor, and I am told she has even published a wedding flower book, although I can't find it on Amazon.
 I shall also have to think about the food. What is in my head at the moment is slow roast  shoulder of pork... a big rustic roast for each table. It's possibly not the easist thing to achieve, but I can't think beyond it at the moment.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011


Wonderful news recently that Skye Gyngell got a Michelin Star for Petersham Nurseries. I can't help wondering how she selects and manages her team of chefs. She cooks so instinctively, and has worked out her own way to do things, there must be some bending of wills for chefs to unlearn what they have previously been taught. She doesn't wear whites in the kitchen, which indicates that she doesn't even see herself as a 'chef ', rather as someone who cooks, both at work and at home. The thing is with cooking, that there is no right or wrong way (with the possible exception of baking). What matters is the combination of flavours and textures that go on the plate. I feel that Gyngell aims for clean, fresh, true food, and her methods would be derived from a desire to achieve this. This is not to imply 'flimsy' or 'delicate' or that she has a  'feminine touch'....gutsy flavours will be there when necessary. I suspect that Petersham Nurseries is unlike anywhere else to work in. The Bay Tree, also, is a bit unlike anywhere else to work in. Obviously, there will never be a Michelin Star for The Bay Tree, not least because I try too much to be all things to all people, ...... we serve anything from a simple baked potato up to the gorgeous coley with fennel veloute that Jonny made last week.

To read the Rose Prince article about Gyngell's Michelin Star, go to

Tuesday, 18 January 2011


Although we are in the depths of winter, there are nevertheless some lovely bright days which turn customers' thoughts to eating something lighter than mash and gravy sort of dishes. I resurrected a salad recipe from the old days this week. I had bought some pink grapefruit and really wanted to make a Thai sort of salad with chicken and prawns. But two other spicy things on the menu meant that I had to think again. So we went for honey and mustard marinaded chicken, served with a rice, banana and coconut salad. Here is the recipe.....for 6 people
250g/8oz cooked long grain rice
1 banana
4 scallions, chopped
50g/20z dessicated coconut
1 red pepper
1 red chilli, finely chopped
 2.5cm/1 inch fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 bunch fresh coriander
a handful fresh mint leaves

juice of 2-3 limes
1 tsp sugar
4 tbs sunflower oil
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
salt and pepper

Skin the red pepper, either by charring on a gas flame or just peeling with a peeler.
Chop or slice the red pepper.
Wash and chop the fresh coriander and mint leaves.
Slice the banana, and mix with all the other salad ingredients.
Mix the dressing ingredients together and add to the rice, banana and coconut mixture.
Season and taste.

This rice mixture is also good eaten hot with either spicy or plain chicken or fish.
I had a busy weekend last weekend, as we had friends for dinner on Saturday night, followed by our Bay Tree staff Christmas party on Sunday. Both nights were great fun, but very different. My menu for Saturday if anyone's interested was roasted beetroot with goats cheese and cranberry salsa; duck confit with puy lentils and seville orange chutney, baby potatoes and chicory salad; mini meringues with tropical fruit and passionfruit puree; cheese and bics and nobody wanted coffee (Brian told them they didn't anyway). The cranberry salsa was very tart and needed a lot of honey to make it palatable, but it's quite a successful mixture.Unfortunately I haven't got a picture of it.....

Monday, 10 January 2011

this week's tasks

The build up of rubbish all needed to be cleared away at the end of last week by the bin monitor, (that's me) that took about half a day, and is part of the reason that not much progress has been made.
An update on the last post's yet, no sour dough; as yet no daily ice-cream, despite egg yolks in the fridge; as yet no home made pasta. However, a slight nudge in that direction has been made. As we had run out of strong flour, and no delivery was possible for another few days, when I was in the Asia supermarket, inspiration struck, and I inquired as to whether they had strong flour,(to save me calling in at Tesco on the way back). Yes, the gorgeous foreigner replied, wait there. He produced a very large and expensive bag of 'oo' flour. I dithered a little, as it was so expensive(£23.50 for 25 kg), but, thinking of the check out queue in Tesco, and allowing myself to see this as a sign that pasta making was about to begin, I bought it (along with the Chinese carry out boxes, the coconut milk, the frozen Kaffir lime leaves, Fenugreek powder, Pomegranate Molasses, Tsing Tao beer, etc). I think we might start next week with everything.....oh yeah!
Things to do this week include an orange and brandy bread and butter pudding, marmalade, carrot cakes, and Baillies and Banana Toffee pies. I was watching Lorraine Pascale's cookery show this evening on telly, and I think I can definately learn a few tips from her to smarten everything up a bit. Our desserts taste good, but they aren't 'wow' enough visually. The picture above is of our pecan pie. It looks a bit overdone; we must be braver and take it out of the oven after the hour, even if it is still wobbly. I shall photograph any successful efforts i have in the future.
We made a little progress with our terrible lighting today. The low voltage bulbs that we have are so dim during the day that it's difficult for customers at certain tables to read anything, and then at night, when we need to create some atmosphere, although we use a dimmer switch, it seems too bright. So these are all going to be changed, quite soon....after we have acquired a new mouli machine for the mashed potato,( and the ice-cream maker!).

Monday, 3 January 2011

back to normal

It was wonderful that my first day of 'back to normal' was actually a bank/public holiday...I'm not sure which. This meant that we were very busy, and the kitchen just thrives on 'very busy'. We did 142 lunches, which is quite good use of our 60 seats. Tomorrow will be a lot quieter, and will give us time to catch up with desserts, traybakes and cakes. We really must make some new desserts.
There are three things that I want to tackle this year. 1) sour dough bread; 2) homemade pasta; and 3) ice_cream. I mean I want to really make them regularly, so that it isn't a big effort. Skye Gyngell told us at the previously mentioned cookery demonstration at Ballymalloe, that she makes ice-cream every day. This must mean that they have a routine of making a custard at the end of every day (and we could easily do this as we always have lots of egg yolks over from making meringues), and then first thing in the morning the ice_cream maker does it's churning, and it would be ready for lunch. Well, we don't have a machine yet, but maybe I could find a second hand one, and then it would just be about sticking to systems.
I might delegate the sour dough bread.
The pasta will be fun if we have a team effort, I think. we must set a date. I was reading Stevie Parle in the Saturday Telegraph last Saturday...he was writing about how the pasta sauce dictates the shape of the pasta. But I long to make tasty I must practice at home.
We are changing the evening menu again on Wednesday which is exciting, although we will be keeping the Coley dish that has been well received. I like this dish because it is light, individual and very tasty. The above picture is of Glen chopping parsley or something. He will play a major part in the new menu.