One of my surprise favourite books from last year was River Cottage’s homage to veg, which was headed by a healthy eating campaign that saw a very svelte and wholesome Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall appear from nowhere! The book is a lovely one to work with, full of lots of colourful photography, making veg look fun and innovative. We always try and cater for all dietary needs but do like to put a full on veggie event at least once a year. Having said that around only 2 of our 14 guests were official full-time vegetarians, which says a lot for how far veggie food has come in the last 20 years. As a recovering vegetarian myself I eat meat-free often and so putting together a full menu of veggie delights was a pleasure rather than a chore. We also had a gluten-free guest and so, on the whole, tried to pick things that she could eat with the whole group rather than single her out.
Our guests were welcomed with a rustic blackberry mule cocktail. This was a sweet and tangy concoction that included blackberry puree, homemade blackberry vodka, lime juice and ginger beer. Our canapes, rustled up by Susie, included moreish mini potato and swede pasties. These were spiked with tangy mature cheddar cheese and came encased in Susie’s homemade buttery puff pastry. Next up were crostini topped with Cambodian wedding dip which is a bizarre but extremely tasty spread made from mushrooms, coconut milk, spices and peanut butter (amongst other things). It was warm and spicy and extremely comforting to eat. The final canape was a mini cup of parsnip and ginger soup, this was velvety and full of warmth from the ginger.
There’s a whole section on raw food in River Cottage Veg – you can make chocolate mousse out of avocados if you really want to! We acknowledged raw food by offering an amouse bouche in the form of a shot of spicy bloody mary. As well as the typical tomato juice, vodka and Worcester sauce we pimped this morsel with heaps of tabasco sauce and lime juice – tangy and spicy!
I personally think that the cook book is perfect for lots of little light bites and tasty treats. This meant that offering a mezze plate for the starter was the sensible choice. This consisted of a creamy cannellini bean hummus, which seemed a lot lighter than its chickpea counterpart. Garlic, lemon and thyme pita breads accompanied this (although I’ll admit now to using Dan Lepard’s recipe for this as you can’t beat his bread!). The third and final element was a spelt salad spiked with roasted peppers, fennel, walnuts and various herbs. The spelt was chewy and nutty and even the gluten-free guest was able to try this as whilst it is not completely gluten-free it is low in gluten and so is worth a dare if you’re not 100% coeliac. Hope she’s not been ill though!!
Main courses were whole pumpkins baked with leeks, Gruyère cheese and creme fraiche. These took Susie a good few hours hollowing out! Once in the oven they filled the kitchen with delicious cheesy aromas. To cut through the creamy decadence of this meal Susie served them up with a raw winter salad of shaved celeriac, mouli and radish. Excitement descended on the dining room as these arrived, and guests had to wait in anticipation to see which kind of pumpkin they would be served – I think the little orange pumpkins were the most coveted!
To give our palette cleanser a veggie twist Susie experimented with a carrot and orange sorbet, and it did not disappoint. It was deliciously fresh and the leftovers kept us going out in the kitchen as we were so hot!
The dessert was a rich and gooey chocolate and chestnut cake (which actually comes from the River Cottage Year Book as the veg book is very low on decent puds). This was partnered with a scoop of beetroot and chocolate ice cream. Now I’m not the biggest fan of beetroot and I have to say that when I was making this I gave it a taste and was shocked by how much the unmistakable earthy taste of beetroot shone through. Having said that, it wasn’t entirely disgusting – just an acquired and odd taste! We were glad to be staying true to the veggie theme! Guests were then stuffed full by this point so we offered teas and coffees and brought out Susie’s cupcakes, which this time were passionfruit curd meringue cakes – beautiful to look at and to eat.
There was a really lovely atmosphere at the Manor at this event. Guests were really up for meeting new people and from the outset were chatting away like old friends, which was lovely. We enjoyed taking part in the discussions, which included food snobbery, horse-gate and the merits of setting up new supperclubs. One of our regulars is umming and ahhing about setting up his own supperclub, which we think would be a great idea – so watch this space!! We’re back in another four weeks when we’ll be going all French with Rachel Khoo for inspiration. Until then au revoir…