A Special Birthday BBQ in the Pepper Garden


A Special Birthday BBQ in the Pepper Garden

Finally….Summer has arrived and it’s Megan’s Birthday! (Sis in Law to-be)

Generally, the idea of a British summer BBQ is something of a scary though to me.  The prospect of rain is usually imminent.  The possibility of the chicken being under cooked is moderately high to high and the marinade you spent all day making could very easily be destroyed by a slightly too long conversation about whether Arsenal will “get” Rooney or not! (not conducted by me you might have guessed) However, I must report, that with a little planning and great company our first summer BBQ in our new house was a huge success.

Please let let introduce you to my life…in food!

We recently moved into our lovely little family home in the Village of St Albans, Hertfordshire.  It’s quite possibly the only street in the world that has such an amazing group of neighbours that they actually through a party for you before you have actually moved in.  (Perhaps they heard what i did for a living and needed a good meal).  Anyway, me and my “intended” have been waiting a whole year to be able to use our garden as something more than a place to hang the washing when the sun decided to pop out for all of 2 minutes before you have to rush back out and bring it back in.  Finally, on the 15th July, the sun did what it had been threatening to do for weeks.

I must inform you, that since moving to our house the kitchen and the garden are my domain! Its my sanctuary.  A place I can escape to when the football is on or when the prospect of more “wedmin” is simply out of the question.  I like to be here alone, to potter, experiment and get a bit grubby.  You are only invited to peel shallots or weed borrage…but don’t compost the flowers!  We eat those.

Sorry, back to the BBQ!

As i’m sure you might imagine, the task of BBQ’in, even in this house hold where the kitchen is strictly my domain will always fall into the hands of a man…In our case, it’s a Mr Tom Pepper.  I think it must be something to do with the large tongs and the open flame that makes them go all primitive. I must point out to you that Tom can not cook.  I say this with love and with the hope that one day the idea of chopping and stewing will inspire him as much as the idea of indulging and digesting.

Now knowing this, I’m sure you can imagine my distress when Tom picks up the £35 leg of patiently marinated and butterflied lamb (from A&C Meats in St Albans) and goes to throw to on to an open flame (flesh, not fat side down)…oh the need to restrain myself from booting him out of the way is slightly overpowering.  However, you will be very pleased to know that in this instant, i left him too it and i must give him credit when I tell you that he cooked it to absolute perfection.  Blushed, not pink, perfectly caramelised and he even allowed it to rest.

To Marinate The Lamb                                                                         Summer BBQ Lamb

3kg leg of Lamb, butterflied

3 large tbsp of washed Oregano from the garden

4 cloves of garlic, puréed with salt

juice and zest of 3 lemons

6 tbsp Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper

Score the fat side of the meat and rub in the marinade, leave for as long as possible.  Over night is best to allow the meat to tenderise in the lemon juice and the flavours to infuse deep into the meat.


To Cook The Lamb.

Get the BBQ up to about 220 degrees centigrade.  Once hot, lay on the lamb, fat side down.  You may get a few flames, but don’t worry, that’s just the oil smoking.  Now, the important thing to remember is not to play around with it.  Turn down the heat (if using Gas) and leave the fat to render and the meat to slowly cook through.  After 20 minutes, turn the meat and cook for a further 15 minutes for medium, remove from the grill and allow to rest for 15 minutes…If you can bare it.  If not, occupy yourself with cleaning the BBQ.


The Helpers

Tom did of course have some company, which came in the form of Niece Millie (16 months) who is quickly learning the skill of podding broad beans (don’t tell her mother) and Mark, the brother in law, who I think is currently making his own home brew.  I will get back to you with the results.  The last I heard he was washing old bottles out in the bath!

The Setting

So, we have the Lamb.  What we need next is a table to put it on.  I’m a sucker for anything reusable or recyclable.  Anything I can paint, distress, sand or make shabby is good.  I love things that don’t match and anything that you can make your own is great.  Hence why may table may look a little like a charity shop raid.

When we moved in to our house, we had no idea of the potential the garden had.  My Mum did mention that it was a great project but all i could see was WORK and lots of Ivy!  But WOW, was she right or what.  I’ve had my cousin Nick over who’s a dab hand with a pair or long handled secateurs and he has finally managed to clear a way for me to put all my old pots and make the place look like the little sanctuary that it now is.  Agapanthus, geraniums and enough lavender to transport you to Grasse if you close your eyes and sniff hard enough.  Tom got his man shed (which i then painted green) but you will be please to hear that he still has a beer fridge in it.  The table was a hand me down from my old man and the rest, well i probably stole it! :)

337 335The Salads

As i knew Tom Pepper would be doing his thing on his new toy (the BBQ), the task would of course fall on me to make the accompaniments. At least that way, if he was to burn the lamb, we would have something nice to fall back on.

I’m a real fan of big, bold flavours.  I love tart fruit with meat and anything with a zing to wake up your taste buds.

The first dish i made was a very simple Heritage tomato and black olive salad with loads of parsley.  A little tip, if you make this in advance, don’t put it in the fridge.  Leave it covered at room temperature.  Tomatoes taste best that way.


Heritage Tomato and Black Olive Salad

To serve 8

4  large plum of beef tomatoes, sliced thinly

4 large Plum tomatoes, i like the yellow ones for colour but what ever you can find is great

2 punnet of cherry tomatoes (try to get various colours and shapes to make it look really beautiful), roughly chopped into pieces
150g black olives, pitted and chopped
2 clove grated garlic
75mls good quality extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 large bunch fresh, flat leaf parsley, finally chopped
1 large tsp salt
lots of black pepper

Place the sliced large tomatoes around the edge of your serving plate, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. You can do this 2 hours in advance to allow them to marinade.
Mix your chopped little tomatoes with the chopped black olives, parsley, remaining olive olive, vinegar, grated garlic, salt and pepper.Load the tossed salad into the middle of your sliced tomatoes and serve.

Lebanese Radish and Pomegranate Quinoa

For those of you who have never had Quinoa, i suppose its best described as a cross between Cous Cous and Bulgar Wheat.  Its delicious and an amazing vehicle for lots of big and bold flavours.  It’s a grain naturally very high in protein, so a very good dish for any veggies attending not to mention it’s really easy to prepare and will last a few days in the fridge so brilliant left overs to take to work.

To serve 8                                                      334

300g Quinoa

200g picked pomegranate seeds

75g toasted almonds

10 small radishes, finely sliced

3 tsp poppy seeds

juice and zest 1 orange

125g feta cheese

1 large bunch mint, chopped

juice and zest 1 lemon

75mls Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 tsp sumac

2 tsp za’atar

1 tsp salt and lots of black pepper

1 bunch fresh mint, finely chopped

Place your Quinoa in a large sauce pan and add double the amount of cold water.  Bring to the boil and leave to simmer for 12-15 minutes until tender.  Drain and leave to cool while you prepare the rest of the salad.

Mix the feta, sumac, Za’atar, lemon and orange zest and juice, olive oil, pomegranate seeds, poppy seeds, toasted almonds and the radishes through the cooked Quinoa.  This can all be done the day before.

1 hour before serving, add the chopped mint and drizzle with a little more olive oil.

And A Final Very Happy Birthday

I am utterly blessed to be marrying into such an amazing family.  In the picture here you can See Megan, Tom’s sister and Mother to my protege broad bean podder, blowing out her candles on her birthday cake.

It wasn’t any old cake, not only because I’m really impatient and baking is sometimes a bit of a bore but because it was hot, hot, hot and a Cream and Raspberry Semi Fredo sounded like a much better idea!  Simply delicious and the perfect dessert to serve with lots of British summer berries.


Raspberry and Cream Ripple Semi-Fredo

1 tin condensed milk

300mls double cream

400mls Creme Fraich (full fat)

1 tsp vanilla paste, or 1 vanilla pod, spilt and seeded341

300g frozen or fresh raspberries

50g icing sugar

Line a 20 x 12 x 10 loaf tin with cling film

Mix the condensed milk with the crème friache and the vanilla paste/seeds.

Whisk the cream to firm peeks and fold in the crème fraiche and condensed milk mixture

Pour into your loaf tin and place into the freezer while you make the coulis ripple.

Purée the raspberries through a sieve using the back of a spoon to extract the pulp but leave the seeds behind. Mix in the icing sugar.

Remove the loaf tin from the freezer and dot 8-10 teaspoons of the coulis on the top of the mixture.  Now use a chop stick to swirl through the coulis.  Remember to get right to the bottom. Once well rippled, place the overhanging cling film over the top and place into the freezer over night.

Turn onto a plate and remove the cling film once ready to serve in slices with lots of fresh raspberries.

Tell me about your BBQ’s below….



It was a truly fabulous day, the food simply delicious, so tasty with gorgeous flavours and succulent meats. (Bangers poached in beer!!!) mmmm. The garden has undergone a transformation and IS a real haven. Such a special family day LOVED it.

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