Saturday, 29 December 2012

A blast from the past

2012 has thrown more than it's fair share of issues at us, the worst of which was the loss of my mother in November following a catastrophic car accident.  

Yep, that one in the front, that's me!
Although not my birth mother, N had been married to my dad since I was seven years old, after my own mum passed away, and I was devastated by her death.  This is me as a bridesmaid at their wedding, trying desperately not to smile as I had recently lost a tooth!

Today, I was going through some paperwork, trying to get some year end filing done, when I pulled out a couple of files, and sandwiched between them was a rather yellowed sheet of A4 paper, with three handwritten recipes on it, that she had given me some 20 years ago!  I have no idea what it was doing in the office (I didn't even think I still had it,) let alone amongst the accounts files.

So, in homage to a dearly-loved, and much-missed, mum, here they are - bear in mind they date back to the 70's and are unlikely to find their way onto our menus any time soon!  Also, seeing the note to the last recipe, worryingly, the other two must have featured in cookery books of the day....

Showing off her outfit for a family wedding in 1992
Bean, Potato & Bacon Casserole

1.5 - 2lbs potatoes
1 medium sized onion
6oz lean bacon
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 16oz tin baked beans
salt & pepper
1/2 pint milk
1oz butter or marg
Garnish - parsley

Peel potatoes & onions and cut into thin slices, cut bacon into small pieces. Fill a 3.5 pint casserole with alternate layers of potato, onion, bacon, parsley & beans, seasoning each layer lightly.  Cover top with layer of potato.  Pour milk over.  Brush potato with melted butter.  Cook in a moderately hot oven (Gas no 5, 375'F 180'C) for 1 3/4 hours.  Serve hot garnished with parsley.  Serves 4-6.

With my wonderful dad

Steak & Tomato Casserole

1oz butter or marg
2 medium sized onions - sliced
3 sticks celery - chopped
1 small tin cream of tomato soup
1 large tin braised steak
1 small tin carrots
salt & pepper

Melt butter in a large frying pan.  Fry onion and celery until soft. Add soup, braised steak and carrots.  Bring to boil, add seasoning & pour into a casserole.  Cover and cook in a moderate oven - Gas 4, 350'F, 170'C for 5 minutes. Add dumplings to casserole, cover again and continue cooking for 20 minutes.  The stew can be cooked entirely on top of the cooker if liked. 4 servings.

With Skip, the most bonkers collie ever born!
Liver casserole (recipe out of my head)

1lb Ox liver
1-2 onions - chopped

Fry the onions in a little oil until soft. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.  Coat liver in seasoned flour and fry in a pan until brown on both sides.  Remove to casserole dish.  Put onions on top of liver.  Pour about a pint of water into frying pan, add oxo beef stock cube.  Bring to the boil and pour over liver and onions.  Cook in oven at 150'C for 1.5 - 2 hours.

Yep - culinary masterpieces all of them, and what I grew up on - no wonder I went looking for my own chef as a partner in adult life, eh?! Still, I'd give a lot to be sitting round her table being served any one of these now.  

10/1949 - 11/2012

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Please be patient....

As a small family business, we've recently been hit hard by a family bereavement, and so have been away from the office for a while.  If you have emailed us or have been trying to contact us, then we apologise for the tardy response, but hope to be able to get caught up with work commitments shortly.

Thank you for your patience at this very difficult time.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Eight questions to ask your caterer.

When planning a wedding there are a multitude of things to consider, across a range of suppliers.  Most of our clients, especially those planning a wedding, have never used caterers before and so other than the obvious questions such as menu choices, cutlery and china patterns and colour of the tablecloths, many of the more mundane, but still essential, questions go unasked.  Some of these questions may well apply to other suppliers too.

We thought it would be helpful to put together a little checklist of things you ought to know....

1) How many other weddings or events is your caterer involved with on your event date?

Unlike many caterers, we limit the number of events we work on each day so we can be sure only the best and most trusted staff work on your event.  It also means that, in the main, the Thames people you speak to from the start will work with you throughout the process and be there on the day, so you can be sure of a friendly face and know that your event team know all the carefully planned details.  This way you know that your event isn't just another day to us.

2) Who from your caterer's team will be there to manage your event on the day?

Again, because we limit the number of events, you will have ample opportunity to get to know your likely event manager over the planning period, and it will usually be one of the company's directors.  If there is a reason why another event manager will be working on your event, then we will always make sure you have met that person well before the event.  It is this level of personal hands-on service that we believe makes the difference.

putting the final touches to a marquee wedding

3) What is the staff to guest ratio?

We assign staff levels depending on the size of the event and the venue.  We allocate a service team of six waiters per 80-100 guests or 8 -10 tables. If there are more than 100 guests, we repeat the formula, so no team has to deal with more than 100 guests.  If there were 140 guests, for example, there would be 2 teams looking after 70 guests each, 400 guests would be 4 teams, and so on. Each team has at least one chef, depending on the menu type.  Each service team has a team leader and there is an overall Event Manager.  For larger events our Head Chef will oversee the kitchen.

4) Is the food prepared on-site or cooked elsewhere and transported hot or reheated?

temporary kitchen
We want our food to reach you at it's best, and that means freshly cooked for service.  If your venue doesn't have a kitchen, we can provide a temporary facility, including ovens, hot cupboards etc.  Under certain rare circumstances where there is no facility to cook on site, such as Henley Town Hall, and where the venue is within a short distance of our kitchen, we can transport food hot, although we prefer not to do this.

5) Does your caterer use strictly fresh and seasonal ingredients, or do they use frozen and pre-prepared products?

Thames Catering's chefs use the freshest and highest quality ingredients, and where possible we source these from local suppliers.  All meat and eggs are free-range and we will use organic produce if available within the client's budget.  All our dishes are made for you from scratch by our chefs.

6) Does your caterer employ their own staff or use an agency?

We have an excellent team of waiting staff and chefs that we use for our events.  We recruit them ourselves and train them where needed, ensuring high levels of friendly and discreet service.  On larger events, we may supplement these with agency staff, but we have one agency that we work with on a regular basis and who tries to send us a core team of staff for our events, so they all know how we work and what standards we expect.

The team at Henley Boat Races, 2012, Temple Island Meadow

7) What insurance cover and licences does your caterer have?

All caterers must hold food hygiene certification, so make sure you ask to see a copy of the certificate.  We also have public and product liability insurance to the value of £5m and employers liability insurance to the value of £1m.  Lastly, we are personal licence holders for the sale and supply of alcohol, and if your venue doesn't hold a premises licence, we will be happy to obtain a TEN for your event.

8) How will your caterer go above and beyond to provide a unique experience for you and your guests?

With our superb food and professional and efficient event management service, we make sure every event is a day to remember for our clients.  We offer an unparalleled level of flexibility in planning both menus and front of house details with all our clients, giving a genuinely bespoke service.  Our On The Day service means clients can relax and enjoy their event knowing all the other little details are safe in our hands.

A little thank you from one of our clients

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Working with SeeSaw

Recently, we offered to help a local charity, SeeSaw, with their annual canape and drinks reception, being held in the grounds of one of the beautiful Oxford colleges.  To give you a little more information about the charity, here's what they have to say:

"Oxfordshire children’s charity SeeSaw has been called “The great little charity with the big heart”. SeeSaw supports young people who may be struggling to come to terms with the death of a mum, dad, sister or brother.

About a third of bereaved children can experience severe difficulties and need extra help.  Without expert support at this critical time, these children can face emotional problems in later life.

SeeSaw’s aim is to give bereaved children in difficulty the support they need, so that they can move forward and face the future with hope. 

Because volunteers give their time for nothing and several members of the small core staff are part time, the cost of providing this service are kept to a minimum. 

This means that for just under £300,000 a year SeeSaw is able to provide a comprehensive service to the whole of Oxfordshire, offering advice and support to families, advice and training to professionals, literature and resources and dedicated, tailored grief support for children.

SeeSaw is a charity and relies on donations from the local community, the corporate sector and charitable bodies in order keep its vital service going.   SeeSaw has helped over 2500 children since the year 2000."

As I lost my own mum when only five years old, this cause is close to my heart, and so we were really pleased to be able to help SeeSaw thank their donors, patrons and volunteers.  We supplied a range of canapes, including gingered chicken cakes with coriander, lime mayonnaise and mango, tiny parmesan shortbreads with feta cheese and roast cherry tomato, griddled scallops on a croute base with sweet chilli sauce and creme fraiche, artichoke & gorgonzola foccacine, mini burgers with pickles and ketchup, and mini fish and chips in bamboo cones!  To round off the evening, we offered sticky orange and almond cakes with greek yoghurt and pomegranate seeds and cherry frangipane tartlets.

We were lucky with the weather, and the rain held off long enough for the guests to enjoy the garden of the President of the college.  There was beautiful harp music to accompany the bubbly and nibbles, and everyone seemed to have a relaxing time.

Sometime after we'd offered to cater for the party, Jane remarked that they had a rather special patron who would be attending the event.  And so we found ourselves catering for a 2-Michelin starred chef - none other than Raymond Blanc!  Raymond very generously agreed to have his photograph taken with the staff, and was friendly and funny, joking that chef wasn't generous enough with the chips in his canapes!  It was certainly a night to remember!

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

80th Birthday Celebrations

"Tim and I had a wonderful week-end of celebration.  The support you gave us was fantastic.  Nothing appeared to be too much trouble and any problem was anticipated and rapidly sorted.  Your staff were all very helpful and capable and our grandchildren loved being trained as servers.  The food prepared by Patrick was perfect for the occasion - delicious,  well presented and just the right amount for Golden Oldies.  We have received so many glowing comments from our guests about our Caterers,  they were obviously impressed. 

Thank you both very much for making our Party week-end so successful.   We will be recommending you locally for events large and small as your service and attention to detail were outstanding.   If any potential clients would like a reference, please refer them to us by e.mail or telephone.

Best wishes
Tim and Helen Woods Ballard."

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

All the places we have been.....

"I just wanted to drop you a quick note to thank you for all the effort you and Patrick put in to making our day so special and ensuring that everything ran smoothly - we had an absolutely perfect day from start to finish, the food and service was impeccable and we had wonderful comments from our guests on the food, so thankyou so much!"

Polly and Peter got married on 19th May, and held their country garden reception at Polly's parents farm in Oxfordshire. In our original first phone conversation, Peter told us he had a friend who was a Michelin starred chef, so we were immediately under no pressure whatsoever to be brilliant! Luckily, we quickly went on to agree a sophisticated menu that satisfied Peter's foodie qualities while being suitable for production in a marquee.

My favourite part of the day though, and the bit I want to tell you about, was the theme of the wedding. Based around Polly and Peter's travels, the tables were named after various places they had been.  Polly made the name cards and on the back of each was a photo of the two of them in the relevant location and a little explanation as to the significance.

Polly had also made the pretty bunting to go around the marquee and which really set the English Country Garden tone.

The main table plan was made from and old trunk, with the name card suspended on white twill tape.  Guests were invited to 'find your destination' and to 'Live the Life You Love'.

This was a lovely simple theme that would be so easy to make yourself, and really added a personal touch to the day.  People often forget when naming tables, that although the scheme might be meaningful to them, many of the guests will not be aware of the significance, so to tie in the names with the occasions, as Polly did, adds an extra, very romantic dimension.  The trunk then brought the theme together and was a really unusual touch.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Tana & James, 28th April 2012

Last weekend was our first outdoor wedding of this year, and we had high hopes when we started the planning before Christmas.  Perhaps the fact that the night of the tasting was also the only significant snowfall in Henley this February should have given us an indication of what was to come.

The plan was always for the ceremony to be held outdoors in the beautiful garden, which Sandra, Tana's mother, worked tirelessly to turn from winter gloom to a spring delight.  Last minute bedding and some stunning architectural planting meant that, in spite of the relentless rain in the week before, the surroundings did look lovely.  

We had alternative plans for a wet day eventuality, but we all knew Tana and James' hearts were set on the ceremony being outside, and after a nervous morning, a last minute decision was made to take advantage of a lull in the rainfall and go for it!  Our staff placed the fantastic Ice Chiavari chairs out onto the lawn and white seat pads were added at the very last moment!  Some of the guests were a little taken aback at the fact the ceremony would be under the trees, but with the help of umbrellas, blankets and a plethora of pashminas, everyone soon got into the spirit of things.  Even when the bride kept everyone waiting for 15 minutes, there weren't any grumbles!

We don't normally get to see the ceremonial part of our client's big days, so it was lovely to be able to watch this time, although I have to confess to a tear or two! 

Fiona from
Henley Ceremonies led a beautiful service, with the  mothers of the bride and groom being invited up to light a candle as part of the ceremony. Tana's cousin, Eve, gave a beautiful unaccompanied rendition of 'When I'm 64', by The Beatles, which was note perfect, and even added her own personalised lyrics part way through.

After the ceremony, guests moved inside for canapes and champagne. The chosen menu had a mediterranean slant, and for a walking starter we served tiny parmesan and rosemary shortbreads with feta cheese and sun-blush tomatoes, ciabatta crostini topped with white bean and sage puree, with diced tomatoes and olive oil, griddled beef fillet served on a croute with salsa verde, proscuitto-wrapped scallop brochettes with bearnaise dipping sauce and smoked salmon blinis with creme fraiche & dill.

While the guests enjoyed the food and drink, (and being honest, a little warm by the fire) our staff moved the chairs back to the marquee, and completed the set up there.

Tana and James had chosen a modern stretch-style marquee, from Lime Marquees, and had gone for a sophisticated, neutral palette of white, black and grey to decorate it.  The grey check napkins, bunting and cake tablecloth were really brought together by the black lace runners which gave real depth and richness to the colour scheme.

The flower arrangements were again down to Sandra, with lovely cream roses and foliage in the stands bought in South Africa.  Each place setting had a tea-cup and saucer filled with roses & rosemary, with a luggage tag name plate.

Baskets of ciabatta and rustic breads greeted the guests on arrival in the marquee, along with bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dip.  The main course was served in a tapas style, offering lots of top-ups to the guests. There was herbed roast sirloin of beef, served rare; pan fried sea bass fillets on a minted fennel and radish salad, and a selection of antipasta including   
Serrano ham, salamis, bresaola, & chargrilled vegetables.

At the bride's father's request, there were bowls and bowls of garlicky parmentier potatoes, and succulent baked black figs stuffed with roquefort cheese and wrapped with proscuitto.  
Cold salads included green French beans with toasted almonds and coriander vinaigrette; beetroot and borlotti bean salad with pine nuts and balsamic dressing; sliced vine tomatoes with red onion, basil and olive oil, and a rocket and sweet potato salad with red onion & citrus dressing.

Once we'd been to each table with seconds.... thirds.... and in some cases fourths (top table!), it was time to move onto dessert - a trio of raspberry creme brulee, chocolate cups filled with dark chocolate mousse and raspberry and lemon brandy snap baskets.  The meal was rounded off with coffee, tea, champagne and speeches.
Once dinner was over, the guests once again repaired to the house while we cleared four of the tables from the marquee, to give room for the band and dance floor.  

After the cutting of the cake and the first dance, once the music got started, the guests really got in the mood for dancing, and in spite of wind and rain throughout the evening, the majority of the guests were to be found on the dance floor - with the exception of around half an hour when we served burgers with bacon, cheese, guacamole and tomato and a selection of genuine Cornish pasties from The Chough Bakery in Padstow - even the Cornish guests were impressed with those! 

The party wound down at around midnight, and special mention has to go to our wonderful bar staff, Aggie, Hannah, Helena and Rhiannon, who kept smiling throughout the evening, in spite of working in the client's bar made of a sideless gazebo which wasn't waterproof!  The girls rotated between bar service and clearing, and I suspect there were happier than usual when it was their turn to collect empty glasses and plates from the marquee and house!

The road conditions on the drive home later that night made me realise how lucky we had really been, weather wise, and we could have had it a lot worse.  So maybe the sun, however well hidden, was shining on Tana and James after all.....