"Preparing good food to share with others is how I show I care."
/ CHARLOTTE /
Musings from Charlotte's kitchen.
For me, one of the things I really look forward to when the next Retreat is coming round is planning out the menus. Out comes a pile of lovely cookery books, lots of mugs of tea, (or perhaps a glass of wine if its the evening) and my notebook and pencil. Sometimes the recipes are dishes I have made on previous trips, but I always try something new.
Our guests never seem to mind being Guinea pigs... and luckily it has always worked out. Because we work in several different countries it's good to know how to adapt recipes. There are sometimes when I have planned each day, only to arrive at the local shops and discover that some of the ingredients I planned to use aren't actually available. And when I say some... actually, hardly any!
This is when a big library of cookery books comes into its own. I absolutely adore my books - they give me knowledge and inspiration to create my own dishes. Two of the main skills you need in this business are how to substitute and how to adapt. Yes, having cornflour really would be useful to thicken that sauce, but in its absence grab a potato, boil it, mash it and there you go…you've thickened the sauce. It may not be cornflour-glossy but it works. The same with herbs and spices and, well…anything really. Before you know it, you've started to create your own twist on a familiar recipe that eventually leads on to your own creation.
My ideas of what to present to our guests are rooted in good home cooking - the kind my lovely talented “Maman” cooked when we were children, and indeed still does. She taught me a lot. Never be fancy for the sake of it. Serve wholesome food made with fresh ingredients and provide variety and colour. Serve it elegantly on a nicely set table and create a warm and inviting setting for the return of the hungry “troops”. Some days, I’m out on the “front line” as well and then we’ll take a picnic lunch. When it’s cold, a big flask of homemade soup, a chunk of cheese on an oatcake with some local chutney, followed by a yummy cake I’ve made that morning keeps up moral. We call it “Carlotta’s Mobile Cafe” and its also well known for a mean hot chocolate and crispy cake. And no matter how bad the weather has been that day, there’s always a nice dinner to look forward to. That might be a venison pie with fresh vegetables followed by apricot brioche, or a warming lamb tagine served with couscous. Make sure you leave space for the dreamy chocolate mousse topped with a snowflake (that’s a crunchy homemade biscuit. We’ve actually devised a scale, the Phil Factor, which grades my desserts on how much they will fill you up, so you can forward-plan and leave enough room! It was named in honour of one of our guests who has an extraordinary fondness for dessert.
I always cook a different dish if a guest is unable to eat something the others are having - and it gives me the challenge of coming up with something really tasty which they might not have had before. I enjoy this. So…..when Niall says, “Do we realllllllly need another cookery book?” I just, smile and tell him, “You know how we have all those different meals on our Retreats? Well, they don't just happen!”