An Indian Feast, Epic Cocktails, Beautiful Music & Celebrations…….
Last month saw the start of Sue’s 50th birthday celebrations. Obviously Sue is still only 49 and will be for many months to come, but with numerous groups of friends and family eager to celebrate this momentous occasion, Sue decided to kick off with an afternoon/early evening Al Fresco celebration, leaving all the details to Simon and the kids…………….
Sue began to worry when the invitation list got to about 40 and Simon was still telling her he was doing all the catering.
“How can he cater for 40 and still be part of my celebrations??” Sue bemoaned to her nearest and dearest. “Celia would you mind coming and helping, at least he can get out of the kitchen a bit if you are there?”
How could I refuse? Sue however decided to invite more friends and family, making the numbers swell to 70 odd, and began to panic even more, especially as I was now on the ‘invites’ list as well, Simon continued to tell her that all was completely under control and not to worry……….
The day dawned, brightish and dryish, Sue was swept away for a pamper day with Niamh and Phoebe who were in on the subterfuge, and Simon’s teams leapt in to place.
A team of florists arrived to decorate the dining room in the Heart Kitchen suite, where food was to be served later. They arranged beautiful, colourful displays all around the outdoor kitchen which was converted into a cocktail bar and dance floor; tea lights and flowers adorned all the outdoor tables, a cocktail bar was built, the yurt was converted into a beanbag relax room, fire pits were dotted round the gardens in case of extreme cold; then, who should arrive with her team of family, friends and chefs? none other than Saira Hamilton from Small Aubergine Bengali cuisine with her entourage of helpers. Saira was MasterChef finalist for the BBC programme back in 2013 and has been developing her business of pop up restaurants, private dining and cookery courses ever since.
With Saira were daughter Lily, friend Carol, Chef John of Blue Sage catering (more about John in a later post) Simon was so touched when he first meet him and the incredible story he openly shares with the world…… and Hannah. And me! I was so excited to be part of Saira’s team for a few hours, – I love cooking and experimenting, but have always loved take-out curries so much and Bob my husband swears by Chicken Tikka Massalla, mushroom rice and naan bread, with never ANY deviation, so I have always left it to the Indian Restaurants if I’m honest.
Saira was lovely to work with; she is bubbly, chatty, happy, efficient and incredibly organised. I was stunned by the amount of food she brought, and knew where every single item was in the myriad of boxes, buckets, bags, pans, etc.. A lot of the dishes had been part prepped before she arrived; the Mango Kulfi (posh Bengalese ice lollies to you and me) were ready to go in the freezer; some of the starters had been mixed ready to be formed into bite sized morsels, but luckily for me, the curries were to be made from scratch right now!
There is something about working in the kitchen with everyone; you say ‘hi’, have a quick introductory chat, and in no time at all can put the world to rights. Common ground, being busy, enjoying and concentrating on the tasks in hand is a tried and trusted recipe to connect with others. I was only in the kitchen a few hours but was made to feel so welcome and that my little bit of effort really helped out.
It was tremendous fun, spicing up 10 kilos of prime quality beef, produced in Lancashire by a friend of Saira so she knows the herd and exactly where her meat comes from, the same with the lamb and the chicken, in fact all of her food is ethically and locally sourced wherever possible.
John and Hannah quietly prepared several kilos of soft shell crab to barbecue, along with langoustine and salmon; Lily prepared the starters and Carol set to skewering several hundred pieces of vegetables for the kebabs. That left me the fun job of making the curry, well – mixing and spicing. Saira was serving a beef madras and a chicken qurma (the original korma) and is used to preparing her curries for fine dining and private dinners, so it was interesting for her to suddenly have to ‘mass produce’ her spice mixtures, keeping everything crossed that the flavours would be the same as when she makes 6 portions not 60!
Aloo tikki – crispy balls of mashed potato flecked with fresh herbs and chilli
Kofte kebabs – melt-in-the-mouth spiced kebabs made with chilli and fresh herbs
Dhal bora – delicious lentil dumplings flavoured with chilli and ginger
‘Saag paneer’ tarts – mini-tarts filled with lightly spiced spinach and feta and mozzarella cheeses
Barbecue / Grill course
Head-on black tiger prawns marinaded in a light tandoori style marinade and char-grilled
Whole soft-shell crabs encased in a light gram-flour batter and deep fried to perfection
Green masala chicken – chicken supremes marinated in green herbs, lime and coconut milk then char-grilled
Masala lamb chops – delicious lamb cutlets marinated in a spicy blend and char-grilled
Shish kebabs of portobello mushroom tikka, with halloumi cheese, peppers and tomato
Served with roasted aubergine dip, chick pea chaat salad, home-made coriander raitha, green salad and naan breads
Beef Madras – a fiery South Indian curry enriched with tomato, coconut milk and a complex but delicious spice blend
Chicken Qurma – forget what you’ve eaten in restaurants, this is the original Bengali celebration dish, a rich and aromatic curry packed with flavour and fragrant spices and mild enough for the most sensitive palates
Aloo Gobi – new potatoes and cauliflower sautéed gently with garlic and chilli
Dhal sambhar – a lentil dish with cooked with vegetables, tamarind and tomatoes and tempered with onions, garlic and mustard seeds
Pilau rice – steamed fragrant basmati rice flavoured with whole spices, ginger, butter and onions
Eastern Mess – the perfect summer dessert – chewy meringue pieces with rosewater scented cream, summer berries and pistachios
Mango Kulfi – the Indian version of ice-cream; rich dense and creamy and flavoured with vanilla and alphonso mangoes
Griddled pineapple with mint sugar and chilli syrup
The team spent all day and well into the evening preparing a stunning gourmet 4 course buffet for Sue’s guests; beautiful dainty lightly spiced morsels of lentils and aubergine with spicy dips as appetisers to complement our mojitos or Nyetimber fizz; followed by barbecued lamb cutlets, spicy soft shell crab, grilled vegetable kebabs and amazing prawns, main courses were the aforementioned curries with plenty of rice, vegetable curries and Bombay aloo potatoes; and then desserts; the sweet coconutty ice lollies; Eton Mess – Bangladeshi style, and spiced grilled pineapple with chilli, it was wonderful!
Even better, there was enough left over to freeze for another get together in June, so I am really looking forward to recreating the occasion.
Sue was nigh on speechless as she took in her party, carefully and secretly planned for her by Simon, Phebz, Murray, Niamh and Rob, not to mention everyone else who mucked in to make it a truly great celebration. Simon invited guests to “get amongst it”, visit the team, take in the colours, the aromas, the action in the kitchen and also invited Saira and her amazing team to come dance and share the food creations as the feast was served, a tantalising explosion for all our senses.
Charlotte Pearce and Adam Evans performed all evening with beautiful voices and acoustic guitars, great tunes for singing along to and dancing, Lynn Seers made an amazing Mulberry handbag birthday cake (It was so perfect that Sue thought it was an actual Mulberry handbag left on the food table for her, and was a little disappointed she could only eat it I think;-)); Jay Brinkworth and Jack Jiggens learnt their cocktail repertoire to perfection, smacking mint, flaming orange peel, shaken & stirred, we were all well impressed with their amaze balls mojitos and cosmopolitans; I hope Sue has many more birthday celebrations before she is 50! To top it all Simon had enlisted the creative skills of Stephanie & Aaron to capture it all… Moment by Moment, beautiful memories to share and cherish, and here is the link.
The Rambler, AKA Celia Dulieu
Celia has been sharing food, wine, recipes and friendship with Simon and Sue Gale for more than 15 years.
In a former life she was a mass caterer, working for large companies such as Selfridges, London; but after moving to the countryside with husband, 2 kids and dog, she resurrected her love of food, - particularly by entertaining her large extended family to lunches ,sharing informal get togethers with friends, and developing her small but productive kitchen garden. She is passionate about all things to do with food and wine; from where it is produced to how it arrived on her doorstep.
Celia’s love of meeting people, visiting places and trying different things has culminated in being invited to get involve with writing up the experiences of the Heart Kitchen and sharing her love of food with you through her ramblings.