I spent a glorious weekend on the stunning and historic South Downs in Sussex. A friend had been planning a surprise birthday party for her boyfriend since January – it was a big one and to say that she pulled it off would be an understatement! How Lucie managed to not blurt out anything and also plan the timing on the Friday so that everyone was at the venue as she walked up (slowly) with Adrian from the pub, (as cars full of late guests whizzed by them) is a testament to her resolve and organisational powers! Factor in no mobile phone signal at the venue, guests arriving late from London on trains who needed collecting and you can imagine some of the problems that needed to be surmounted.
Lucie’s parents, Richard and Judy, own and run a beautiful Victorian Bed and Breakfast, Riverdale House, in Alfriston. It’s set in quintessential English gardens and overlooks the South Downs from the front and the Cuckmere Valley to the rear. Beautifully presented with the most comfortable bed I have EVER slept on, crisp white sheets, plenty of fluffy white towels, lots of toiletries in the bathrooms, tea/coffee making trays in each room, a flat screen TV, a fridge and lots of room to unpack and hang up your clothes – it is a world away from the stereotype of English B and B’s! If you follow me on Instagram, you will have seen some of the photos (one of which was liked by Bear Grylls – imagine!!) I was posting when the Wifi kicked in .
Richard and Judy are absolutely lovely – they could not have been more hospitable and welcoming. They left us to it after Richard had cooked the main course on Friday, giving us the run of the house for the weekend. So on Friday evening, after surprising the the birthday boy, we had few glasses of champagne on the front lawn, admiring the view and catching up with everyone, before repairing to the dining room which was set up for a sit down dinner for 14 people. I had made a chicken terrine the night before in London, for the first course. The second course was sea bream with seafood pasta, cooked by Richard, which was absolutely gorgeous. Lucie had been to France and brought back wheels of cheese, which she stacked up like a 6 tier cake and lit up with candles. There was this amazing chocolate mousse cake with a hazelnut wafer base from a patisserie in Brighton which is one of the best things I have ever eaten! I normally pass on the pudding course as I prefer cheese but not this time – I missed out the cheese entirely!
A barbecue was planned for Saturday evening for which Catherine and I were making the salads. Catherine had an adorable little helper, Emily who is 5, and they made the most delicious potato salad which Catherine’s grandfather used to make. She also make a couscous salad: a celery, chickpea, feta and cumin salad; an orzo salad with rocket, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella and pesto plus a garlicky tzatziki and pita chips flavoured with rosemary. I marinated a couple of chickens; boned a leg of lamb, butterflied and marinated it (and was quite proud of my boning efforts which gave rise to plenty of bawdy comments) and made a pea, spinach and feta salad with a lemon, mustard and garlic dressing as well as a grated courgette and mint salad, dressed with lemon, olive oil and garlic. No danger of vampires that evening!
Sunday morning was spent pootling around picture perfect Alfriston Village followed by a quick lunch and then very reluctantly we were London bound.
My homecoming was brightened up by the sight of a parcel from Essential Cuisine who have sent me some stock powders to try out and review. A rummage in the fridge and the cupboards provided all the ingredients necessary for a lovely summery pasta salad over which Jake and I caught up on each other’s weekend news and prepared for the week ahead.
I used some of the Essential Cuisine Chicken Stock to season and flavour the pasta salad and have to say that it is absolutely delicious – seriously full of rich, deep chicken flavour and as it is a powder, it dissolves and blends in quickly and perfectly. It is also low in salt, has no artificial additives or preservatives and is gluten free. Each 96g pot makes about 8 litres of stock so it is really very good value too. No more sticky, hard, salty stock cubes for me – this stock powder is quite special and I am so looking forward to cooking with it. If you are in the UK, do take a look at the Essential Cuisine HomeChef website – it is full of really useful tips and recipes and you can also purchase the stock powders directly from them. Their range includes Veal, Fish, Lamb, Beef, Chicken and Vegetable.
(Disclaimer – Although I was sent the stock powders to try out, these views are entirely my own.)
Summer Pasta Salad with Chicken and Broad Beans
- i medium white onion, sliced
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 100 g of spanish chorizo, sliced into ½ cm chunks
- 1 courgette/zucchini sliced into half moons
- handful of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
- 300 g of dried pasta – I used penne
- The podded beans from 10 pods of broad beans
- 1 tsp Essential Cuisine Chicken Stock Powder mixed with 100 ml of hot pasta water
- 4 Tbsp of olives – I used a mix of green and black
- 200 g of left over roast chicken, sliced into bite sized pieces
- A bunch of basil, torn or sliced
- 1 fresh mozzarella ball, sliced or torn into chunks
- Fill the kettle and put it on.
- Set a large shallow pan over a medium flame and heat up the oil. Add the sliced onion and let this soften for a couple of minutes. Stir in the chorizo and let this cook for a minute or so, just long enough to start releasing those smokey paprika oil. Stir in the courgettes and leave for a couple of minutes to caramelise before stirring to turn them over and caramelise the other side.
- Fill a large saucepan with the just boiled water and let it come to a boil again. Add a good measure of salt and tip in the pasta. I like my pasta really, very al dente so for dishes where the pasta will be stirred in to finish cooking with the rest of the ingredients, I normally cook it for 6 minutes. In this case, I set the timer for 3 minutes after the water had come back to a boil once the pasta had been added and then added the broad beans and set the timer for another 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, fish out the broad beans and then drain the pasta reserving some of the pasta water.
- While the pasta and beans are cooking, stir in the cherry tomatoes, the chicken and the olives to the chorizo and courgettes. Add the stock and give it a good stir.
- Add the drained pasta and stir this in to coat with all the lovely pan juices, adding a dash of reserved pasta water to bring it all together.
- In the meantime, pinch and squeeze the broad beans out of their skins and stir these into the pan together with the basil.
- Taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary. There is plenty of flavour in the chorizo and the stock and there is salt in the pasta water so taste before seasoning…
- Top with fresh mozzarella cheese and serve.
© Selma Jeevanjee and Selma’s Table, 2013, 2014. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material, including photographs without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Selma Jeevanjee and Selma’s Table with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.