Sue's Creations

Two is a Team!

I’ve gone quiet for couple of weeks, but not for the lack of things going on at the headquarters. I’ve actually been bringing to life a plan of attracting a partner in crime and I am super excited to say that I’ve succeeded! From now on the Rustic Caterer is a team of two!

Sue, a fantastic baker, cake maker and all-round foodie has agreed to join me in running the catering business. Some of you had a chance to taste Sue’s creations at the various social gatherings. Her Peter Rabbit cupcake tower has a special place in the dessert history 🙂 I am therefore immensely happy that we will be able to offer her products to our customers. And it will be so much more fun doing this as a team!

From now on we will both be documenting our endeavours, culinary and logistic, on this blog. In the last week or so we had a confirmation of our first 3 jobs staring from October! We will be writing about them in more detail very soon.

Peter Rabbit Cupcake Tower
Peter Rabbit Cupcake Tower

The realisation dawned on me that it’s really happening now. And there is a million and one thing to sort out before we can legally cater food. Over the coming weeks we will be registering the company, sorting out insurance, finding suppliers, printing business cards, preparing the website, working on our menu, getting hold of equipment, and most likely many, many other things that we haven’t yet thought of.

Weirdly, now that everything is kicking off, I am charged with extra energy, no idea where from.   Especially since plans and whirlwind of thoughts (and often JoJo) are keeping me awake at night.

Bring on October!

Broad Bean, Mint and Spring Onion Pate

Broad Bean, Mint and Spring Onion pâté

Tapas is by far my favourite type of food. I love the concept of a variety of small, tasty dishes and I would always choose this over a big portion of even the most delicious meal. I’m a picker and mixer in that sense. The Spanish cuisine, particularly tapas, will also be a big influence on the Rustic Caterer menu, when it’s eventually ready. I’d love for my food to bring to mind a lazy Mediterranean afternoon…:) But with D’s latest weirdness of rejecting any food that is rich and salty, I’m being forced on a quest for refreshing and zingy dishes (his words, not mine….). And so I thought I will have to put the tapas recipes to one side for the moment, as they tend to be too full of flavour. But then I stumbled upon a recipe for a Broad bean, Mint and Spring Onion Pâté. I found this recipe in a book by Susanna Tee titled “Tapas”. The edition that I’ve got was published by M&S’s and it’s part of a series “A Culinary journey of discovery”. I’ve got couple more books from this series and I would definitely recommend it to all foodies and cook book enthusiasts. They have a great selection of recipes, lovely pictures and interesting background stories on the dishes. And they tend to use simple and widely available ingredients, so you won’t have to visit 3 supermarkets and World Foods stores in search of pickled unicorns.
Broad Bean, Mint and Spring Onion Pâté
Lovely veggie alternative to traditional pâté.
I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never cooked with broad beans before. I was excited to see what will come out of this simple dish and it was a brilliant surprise and a real hit with D. It’s a bit fiddly to start with, as you need to get the beans out of double shelling, but it gets dead easy from there. And the result is a lovely alternative to rich, meaty pâtés. It tastes very fresh and summery, and the smell of mint completes the experience. I’ve served it on a toasted baguette slices, but it would taste equally nice with ciabatta or simple toast. Nice for a summer lunch. And as it’s all natural and good for you, I’ve served it for lunch to Jo-Jo and he chomped it like a born and bred Spaniard. All in all, it’s a winner. If you want to give this a try you will need: • About 1kg of fresh broad beans in shells (you will be cooking and shelling them later) • 3 spring onions (sliced) • 250g soft goat cheese • 1 garlic clove (crushed) • Splash of extra virgin olive oil • 1 lemon (juice and grated rind) • Big handful of fresh mint leaves (around 60-70 leaves) • seasoning Bring a big pan of water to boil and cook the beans 8-10 minutes until tender, drain and leave to cool. Once cooled remove the beans from their pods and pop them out of their skins. Put the beans into a food processor together with all other ingredients and blitz until they resemble a chunky paste. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour before serving. If you are serving them with baguette toasts, cut the baguette into thin slices, toast them under grill or in the oven, and brush with olive oil, before spreading with the pate. ¡Buen provecho!
CIEH_certificate

CIEH Level 2 Qualification – What do you mean I have to pass a test??

If for you, like for me, the years in education are long gone (and almost forgotten) , you will understand my dread at the thought of having to now, all of a sudden, pass a test. But, as it turned out, that’s exactly what I had to do. Amongst the useful brochures sent to me by my local Environmental Health officer was the information that all food handlers handling high-risk food (in this case me) require training to CIEH (Chartered Institute of Environmental Health) Level 2 Award in Food Safety in Catering. I will later learn that this means that not only do I have to attend an allday training at my local council offices, but also, shock and horror, write a test at the end of that day. This I was not expecting. The last test I had to write was the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising exam roughly 7 years ago. I passed, but let me tell you, I did not enjoy that particular experience. I can still remember sitting on the steps of Westminster tube station an hour before the exam and with a mixture of panic and dread reading though my notes one last time. The added stress came from the fact that my employer at the time was paying for me to take this exam and that the results were published for all to see. But this time is different. The hidden blessing of being a mum to a 12 month old is that I have absolutely no time to be worrying about anything not baby related. There is also one other difference. Whilst the secret of marketing mix and SWOT analysis were fairly new to me, food hygiene is my secret obsession….. I scrub my worktops furiously, clean the inside of my fridge regularly and wash any food item entering my kitchen. If this was making me miserable, I would say that it is my OCD. But in actual fact, it’s my guilty pleasure. The different hygiene standards are also a subject of many disagreements between D and I. “Have you washed this?” starts most arguments in our kitchen. So when I realised that the training will be on food hygiene I began to get excited. Not only will I get to spend the day talking to people about washing food, but I will also learn more science facts to be used in discussions with D. Still, the idea of taking an exam was making me nervous. But the nerves were unnecessary. The day consisted of two parts, led by two different local officers. The morning session focuses on presenting the various risks and health hazards that come with handling food. There was a lot of talk about bacteria and the illnesses they can lead to, from the boring old food poisoning to some horrible, fatal cases. (At this point I was having a lot of second thoughts regarding handling food professionally). We also looked at pictures of some horrendous finds, uncovered by the officers on past inspections in dirty food joints. And then the lunch was served…. Luckily the afternoon session put everything in perspective. We went through the food safety management processes, from taking temperature readings when cooking, cooling and storing the food, to delivery times, cleaning and hygiene. I found all this very reassuring. Then came the exam. And I am happy to report that having listened to the lectures during the day, passing was very easy. Two weeks later the results arrived and I am now a qualified safe food handler (to Level 2 anyway..) The only side-effect, since attending this training is that whenever I look at D now, all I can see is bacteria multiplying….
Mushroom, Goat Cheese and Caramelised Onion Frittatas

Mushroom, Goat Cheese and Caramelised Onion Frittatas

Last Friday, tempted by the perfect summer afternoon D and I decided to have dinner al fresco and take JoJo for a picnic.  One massive traffic jam and two arguments later we arrived in Stamford. We had some unused M&S vouchers, so we stopped there on the way to stock up on picnic supplies. An hour later, we were picnicking away by the river. Between mouthfuls of a mushroom and goat cheese frittata, a “ Mmm, Good… You should try making these” came from D. Keen to please; I started searching my cookbooks and internet for a similar dish. I came across quite a few, but the one that caught my attention came from www.chow.com. I’ve recreated the recipe and I have to say the result was lovely.  I did change few bits, the main change being a higher ratio of all the nice bits to balance the eggs. In my opinion it made the frittatas more flavoursome. I also went all out on pepper and thyme. I think when doing this again I’ll also be replacing the yellow onions with red and experimenting with adding some garlic for extra depth. The original recipe suggests having these warm or at room temperature, but we were in agreement that they taste much nicer when cold from the fridge. Cooling them down also gives them a nicer, more defined consistency. They would be perfect as part of a picnic, vegetarian lunch or party nibble. I probably wouldn’t go as far as suggesting them for an elegant dinner. It might be a bit overambitious task for what’s essentially a glorified omlette. They are really easy to make and lovely for a summer lunch. If you want to try them, you’ll find the recipe below. You’ll need:
  • 400g mini Portobello mushrooms, cleaned and cut into thick slices
  • 125g goat cheese ( I used St Helens Farm, but any crumbly goat cheese will do)
  • 9 large eggs
  • 1 large or 2 small yellow or red onions, chopped
  • Small handful of fresh thyme (leaves picked)
  • olive oil
  • 25g butter + extra for greasing the tin
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • Salt and black pepper, ideally freshly ground
Method
  1. Heat the oven to 180°C and grease a 12-well muffin tin with butter.
  2. Heat the butter and a splash of olive oil in a frying pan and caramelise the  onions over a medium heat, for about 30 minutes, until soft and brow, taking care not to crisp them. Season well, add the thyme leaves and set aside..
  3. Return the pan to medium heat, add another splash of oil. When the oil is hot, add the mushrooms, season well with salt and pepper and fry for about 10 minute, until soft.
  4. In a bowl combine the onions, mushrooms and crumbled goat cheese. Divide the mixture evenly between the 12 wells of the tin, until they are roughly 2/3 full.
  5. In another bowl whisk the eggs and milk until well combined. Season well with salt and whisk some more.
  6. Pour the eggs over the mushroom mixture, filling the wells until almost full.
  7. Bake for about 15 minutes, until each frittata is raised and is just set (they will collapse once cooled).
  8. Cool the frittatas in the tin on a wire rack. Once cool, remove from the tin, using a butter knife to help if necessary. If serving cold, cool for a further hour or so in the fridge.

Catering from home – Do I need a commercial kitchen?

When planning to do catering from the security of your home it’s not hard to work out where you’ll be preparing the food. That will most likely be the kitchen. Since I’ve been planning this endeavour for long before we moved home, the size and layout of the kitchen was one of the main factors in our house hunt. When looking at houses, D got to choose his favourite garden. I was allowed to choose everything else, including the kitchen space. And we were lucky enough to find a house that for both of us ticked all the boxes and captured our hearts. I got to cook in my dream kitchen (or what will hopefully be the dream kitchen, one year, one redecoration and way too much money later). Having said all this, I have to admit. I was a bit swayed by the popular misconception that in order to do catering from home, you need a full blown Masterchef style commercial kitchen. Splash backs, 8 burner cooker, industrial freezers. The lot. And, if you have a penchant for Heston, ideally also a dry ice machine. When I finally got around to calling my local authorities to verify this, I was more than a little surprised to be told that a normal, even petite kitchen will do just fine. There are however multiple rules and regulations that the kitchen needs to comply with. To legally run a catering business from home you need to register the premises with your local environmental health services. The application needs to reach them at least 28 days before your open for business. The Food Standard Agency website, an invaluable government source for all information relating to catering industry has a special tab for finding your local authorities. I was dreading the call, as I generally dread getting through all the red tape. But the local Environmental Health Officer turned out to be extremely helpful and soon I was provided with all the information including the requirements for the premises. One source I found particularly helpful is the Starting Up booklet. It’s available to download from the food.gov website here, and it gave me the information on what the rules are regarding the kitchen. The main thing really is that all surfaces (that includes walls, ceilings as well as work surfaces) must be in good condition, smooth and easy to clean. There must be adequate facilities for cooking and washing food, and separate facilities for washing hands. There are also other requirements, (including no pets in the kitchen – sorry Humphrey!), but none of them excessive or unobtainable. Next step – arranging the inspection by the Environmental Health Officer.
Setting up a catering business - documents

Setting up a catering business – to do list

Now that the doubt is dealt with and the decisions have been made, I am moving on to the logistics. Between me now and me the professional caterer, there are many steps and things to consider. To make them into a more manageable action plan I’ve put together a list. There is nothing more satisfying than a good to do list!
  1. Premises
    • Where will I prepare the food?
    • Are there any requirements regarding the premises?
    • Do they need to get inspected / approved?
  2. The Legal and other boring stuff:
    • Should I register a company with HMRC?
    • Registering the business with Food Safety
    • Insurance and Liability
    • Licence – when do I need one?
  3. Training
    • Do I need any specific qualification?
  4. Food, Health and Safety:
    • What are the risks?
    • What processes to put in place to ensure food hygiene and minimise risks?
  5. Equipment:
    • What will I need?
    • Where can I get it from?
  6. All the bits to figure out:
    • What type of catering company do I want to run?
    • What will be my unique angle?
    • How will I stand out from competitors?
    • Will I deliver or offer collection only?
    • What is my target market?
  7. The suppliers:
    • What products will I need?
    • How best to find the suppliers?
  8. The menu:
    • What foods do I want to offer?
    • What about the pricing?
  9. The profits:
    • How do I manage my costs?
    • How to ensure that I make a profit?
  10. The marketing:
    • What will I need? ( business cards, menus, posters and other bits)?
    • How will I get to my target market?
Over the coming months I will be (slowly!) working my way through this list and write about it as I go.  I most likely won’t keep to the exact order of the list, but I’ll try to make it as clear as I can. Exciting times ahead.

The doubt – can I actually do this..??

It’s been with me since I can remember. Accompanying every major decision I ever made, from choosing university, getting married, to deciding if I’m ready for a baby. The doubt. Am I ready? Can I do this? Is this the right choice or a mistake? Will I fail, and if I do, can I survive the failure? I don’t really mind this doubt. In all honesty, I have learnt to ignore it most of the time. If I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t have taken the step into any big change in my life. But this coming challenge has given me the biggest doubt to date. I love food. Food shopping, food cooking, food eating. And I love entertaining.  Nothing gets me as excited as planning a dinner party. For years now I’ve been wondering if there is any chance I could make a living from combining these passions.  But life took me on a different journey. I studied tourism, got a summer job at a marketing company, moved to London and joined a big media agency, which turned into a 6 years career in online marketing. Then I became a mum, and everything I knew about myself shifted.  I no longer cared about promotions, recognition, the next project. But at the same time I didn’t want my life to be all about nappies and baby talk. I have huge admiration for full time mums, but I felt that I was drowning under the ever growing nappy pile. And I realised that what I really want my son to have, is a fulfilled mummy , who didn’t compromise on her dreams. And the dream was to put food to work. I am also extremely lucky to have a husband who gives me not only moral support, in all my endeavours, but also, since  I went on maternity leave, financial support . And when time came for my maternity leave to finish, and for decisions to be made regarding my job situation, D encouraged me to do the unthinkable, leave the comfortable career in media, and try my strength in professional catering. So here I am. About to embark on one of the biggest journeys to date. A journey to start my own catering business, from the security of my kitchen. I’m as always filled with doubt and fear. Will I be good enough? Will people like my food? Will I get orders and deliver to expectations? But I am also filled with  amazing excitement and anticipation. I am finally doing this! I am making food my work. I might fail, but ohh, how I can’t wait to give it a go!