We’ve just come back from another amazing Beyond Chocolate Retreat. I love our Retreats. I get to spend a week with a group of fantastic women and witness them transforming their relationship with food, their approach to weight loss and the way they think about their body in a truly profound way. I am moved, touched and inspired every time.
One thing I really love about the retreat is that we weave the Beyond Chocolate approach into every aspect of the week. The concepts and tools that we talk about in workshop sessions are seamlessly incorporated into the rest of the day so that participants get to practice them over and over again. By the time they go home, they know how to put the Beyond Chocolate and Beyond Temptation approach into action and they have a clear idea of how will they do that when they get back to ‘real life’.
The other thing I love about the retreat is that I get to spend hours in the kitchen every day cooking food I love, experimenting with new recipes, making old favourites and sharing my efforts with others. I mainly cook from my favourite recipe books and tried and tested family favourites. I spend a lot of time in the menu planning phase. Putting together menus that tick all the boxes is an exciting challenge. I need to take into account likes and dislikes, allergies, intolerances. I aim to keep the menu as close as possible to my ideal of a healthy diet whilst sticking to a budget and making sure that the recipe is easy to replicate for a large group. I also want recipes that I can, at least in part, prep ahead so that those of us working in the kitchen aren’t chained to the stove for the week…
I also have another mission to fulfil with my menu plan. I want to inspire the participants to fall in love with food again. Years and years of dieting with endless lists of good and bad foods mean that many women just don’t know where to start. I do my best to strike the right balance between putting exciting and adventurous food on the table and making sure I serve up simple, familiar, comforting favourites.
On the one had I want to inspire women to experiment with new flavours and ingredients – when we become our own Gurus and make our own decisions about what we want to eat, having a wide range of possibilities to choose from makes it so much easier, and more fun. Vegetables are especially fun to experiment with. So many yo-yo dieters think of them as a necessary evil. They are often amongst the only ‘safe’ foods in diet plans. You can eat as much broccoli as you want…as long it is boiled or steamed. And plain. No butter, no oil, no cheese sauce. Nothing. Just broccoli. How many years did I suffer steamed broccoli with a squeeze of lemon to alleviate the boredom? This year we made a lot of Yottam Ottolenghi recipes. He does truly amazing things with food – this is first class, 21st century vegetarian stuff. We made a few of his inventive and delicious salads. Something magic happens to veg when Ottolenghi puts his twist on it. Boring chickpeas and diety broccoli become tasty and moorish, it turns out, when they are accompanied by shed loads of fresh herbs and a lemony yoghurt dressing. Broccoli and Chickpea Salad – really delicious. His Spring Onion Soup, a beautiful, pale green soup made with spring onions (lots of them needed for 12 people – thank you to Abbi and Connie for your dedication to the cause and for prepping 2 kilos of them!), peas, courgettes, mint and parsley – amongst other things. It is so good that it came out again at the next meal. Definitely the week’s top soup.
I am also passionate about showing women how easy it is to cook simple, easy meals without special ingredients. Stuff that we grew up on, basic, hearty meals that are tasty and don’t require Masterchef skills. So the menu also included meals like roast chicken, potato salad, cream of tomato soup and sausages with roast root veg. I don’t really follow anyone’s recipes for these. I use the best bits from all the ones I’ve tried over the years. Luckily all our meat, eggs, fish and cheeses came from a local deli selling loads of fabulous local goods. The chicken was so good that all it needed was a massage with butter, chopped rosemary, salt and pepper and then half an hour at 200C with a few cloves of crushed garlic and a squeeze of lemon juice (or a small glass of white wine). The potato salad was made with home-made mustard mayo which takes 5 minutes to make and tastes like nothing out of a jar. This is the kind of stuff anyone can make and it’s so satisfying.
Mustard Mayonnaise Recipe
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tbsp of french mustard (Dijon Poupon style) add to taste
- 1 good pinch of salt
With s mall whisk start to beat the egg and mustard and then start to drizzle in some oil. I use about 30% olive oil and the rest a flavourless vegetable one. If you use all olive oil the mayo will be very strong tasting and quite overpowering and claggy. Slowly drizzle the oil and whisk constantly until the ingredients do their thing and it turns into mayo. Keep tasting and stop when you like the taste and consistency. You can thin the mayo out a little with a tablespoon of boiling water and lift it a bit with a squeeze of lemon. You can also add all sorts of flavourings – everything from grated garlic and mashed basil leaves for dipping crudités to tabasco and ketchup for prawns. Keeps in a jar for a few days.
While I’m on condiments, many of the participants asked me for the recipe for the french vinaigrette dressing we make to go with green salad. It’s not really a recipe, like the mayo it’s assembly but it can make a salad so appetising…
French Vinaigrette Dressing
- 1 tbsp (1 small) shallot, chopped super fine (you can also buy chopped frozen shallots in Waitrose and on Ocado)
- 1 tbsp red/white wine vinegar
- 1tsp mustard (french, Dijon Poupon style)
- good pinch of salt
- 50ml or so of olive oil
We had pudding every night, mostly courtesy of the Goddess of puddings Nigella. Her Chocolate Olive Oil Cake from her latest book Nigelissima, which we ‘enhanced’ with dried cherries which we soaked in orange juice and Marsala (this is what had) and whipped cream and her fabulous stewed spice plums with Barbados cream from How to Eat both went very well with our home-made ice creams – this year Abbi was in charge of the ice cream maker and she produced amazing cardamom vanilla and milky banana variations.
Find out more about working with Audrey and taking the Beyond Chocolate approach into your kitchen and onto your table