My 3 Most Popular Retreat Dishes
I’ve never been a restaurant chef. My cooking has always been in people’s homes, catering for family events, birthday parties, Christenings, Christmas parties, or cooking for families on holiday.
When you’re cooking in someone’s home, or for a gathering like a retreat, the meal has a different rhythm than a restaurant where you are turning over tables, a different pace to allow for conversation and taking time over the courses.
At retreats I serve meals family-style, rather than individual plating. I like to prepare a number of dishes, a mix of meat, vegetables, salads and breads that can be passed around the table, so people can choose a little or a lot of what they fancy. It’s also my favourite kind of eating, getting to try a little of everything. It’s a convivial kind of meal, passing and sharing food. I also believe in letting people choose their own portion size, not everyone at the table wants to eat the same amount.
When the food is served in this way it’s easier to make use of leftovers. Leftover baby potatoes in herb butter from the evening meal are used in the frittata the next day for breakfast. Tagliatelle served with Beef Bourgignon can be used to make Mediterranean Pasta Salad for the next day’s lunch. Eating on retreat should combine the feeling of being spoiled with 5-star treatment, with the comforts and nourishment of home cooking.
I’ve shared below the recipes for the most popular dishes from my last retreat in Avignon, Provence. The herb crust on the chicken dish even tempted a vegetarian who hadn’t eaten meat in 5 years! The soup and chicken tenders were both served at lunchtime with salad and bread. The lemon posset was a favourite dessert!
Parsnips Soup with Chorizo Crumbs - Serves 6
2 small onions, diced
1 large potato, diced
400g parsnip, diced
1.2 litres of chicken or vegetable stock
100g chorizo, peeled and diced
4 tablespoons olive oil
Melt the butter in a large saucepan. When it's foaming, add the onions and potatoes, toss them in the butter, add salt and pepper. Cover with a lid and sweat until soft, about 10 minutes.
Add the parsnip and stock, and cook until the parsnip is soft, about 10 minutes. Liquidise the soup with a blender, add back to the saucepan and reheat. Add a little milk or water until you have the consistency you like. I don't like a thick soup so I add enough milk at this stage so that it is quite fine. Season with salt and pepper and taste.
The chorizo crumbs are a tip learned at Ballymaloe to add a little spicy kick to root vegetable soups.
Heat the olive oil in a small frying pan. Fry the chorizo until it's crispy, about 5 mins.
Remove the chorizo from the pan and add the breadcrumbs to the remaining oil in the pan. When the crumbs are golden brown in colour, remove from the heat and add back to the chorizo.
Spoon a little chorizo crumbs on the soup when it's ready to serve.
Garlic & Herb-Crusted Chicken Tenders with Tomato Mayo
Serves 4 as a light lunch
4 chicken breasts
Bunch of fresh parsley, chopped finely
2 tablespoons of dried herbs, herbs de provence or mixed herbs
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed
50g plain flour
2 beaten eggs
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
175ml sunflower oil
50ml olive oil
1 dessertspoon white wine vinegar
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
Handful of fresh basil
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon of sugar
Secrets of success:
⇿ Turn the oven to the highest temp so the crumbs get crispy
⇿ Brush oil in the dish so that the chicken doesn’t stick
⇿ Don’t be shy with the breadcrumbs, use plenty on each piece for maximum crunch!
⇿ Feel free to adjust the amount of herbs and garlic in the crumb mixture according to your taste. Sliced red chilli could also be added here if you like a little heat
Preheat your oven to the highest temp.
Mix the breadcrumbs, garlic, fresh and dried herbs, salt and pepper in a blender, or in a bowl by hand.
Slice the chicken breasts into strips or small nugget-size pieces. Put the flour, beaten eggs and breadcrumbs into 3 separate bowls.
Dip each chicken piece separately into the flour, egg and the the breadcrumbs. Each piece should have a good coating of breadcrumbs so it's nice and crunchy.
Brush a casserole dish with the oil, and place the coated chicken pieces into the dish.
Place the dish in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the chicken pieces are golden and crispy. They can be turned after 10 minutes to ensure even cooking.
For the tomato sauce, blend the tin of tomatoes with 2 cloves of crushed garlic, basil leaves, salt, pepper and sugar. If you can get really good fresh tomatoes you should use them. In France the tomatoes were huge and sweet so I used them, but a tin of tomatoes will get you there too.
Now for the mayonnaise. Making your own mayonnaise can seem faffy and time-consuming, but it's delicious and worth it. Mix the egg yolks and mustard in a pyrex dish, *slowly* drip the mixed oils into the dish, whisking all the time. If you pour the oil in too fast, the mixture will separate. When half the oil has been whisked in, add the vinegar. Slowly beat in the rest of the oil until the sauce thickens. Taste, and add salt, more vinegar or some lemon juice according to your taste.
Add a couple of tablespoons of your tomato sauce into the mayonnaise until it is as rich and tomatoey as you like it.
Lemon Posset - Serves 4
A very simple and delicious dessert. So simple that it's my go-to if I need to make something quick.
50ml lemon juice
In a saucepan on a low heat, melt the sugar into the cream. When it comes to a simmer, remove from the heat and leave to cool for 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice.
Pour through a sieve into glasses and place in the fridge to cool for about 2 hours.
Decorate with a berry of your choice!
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