Tag Archives: entertaining

My first attempt at a supperclub (of sorts)

I’ve always loved cooking for people – be it a gift of brownies or a jar of granola or a full on Christmas dinner, making and giving food is a true sign of love. I blame my mother entirely.

Over the last ten days, I’ve had two very significant meals – one that I arranged myself in order to kick start my positive 2015, and one that may actually change my life.  More on the former below, the latter will come when I can talk about it more!

In a nutshell, we moved to suburbia and felt a little like we’d retired. It’s so lovely and quiet but quite the shock from being in zone two to zone four. It’s taken us a while but I think we’re finally approaching a level of comfort with it and what’s been particularly nice is having people come and visit and stay with us, now we have the space. And it means we can do significant entertaining which is also nice. So we’ve hosted a lot of dinner parties and Sharknado fests and Avengers evenings in onesies and quiet cocktails do that ended at 4am (and weren’t actually that quiet – sorry neighbours) which have been awesome.

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However, for ages we’ve been toying with the idea of hosting an actual supperclub, one where we plan a menu (three courses and all from scratch) and budget it and cook it all to a timed fashion and where the wino matches wines from his shop. So back in January, to kick start my year with a few changes, we decided to invite a bunch of our nearest and dearest to partake in our food and booze and tell us what they thought. And to decide if this is something we want to do semi-regularly.

Firstly, I am super impressed with the established supperclub owners who do this monthly, weekly or more often than that. My feet STILL hurt from being on them all night long. I’m totally wiped out. I had a week of panic dreams in advance about the sorbet and people getting food poisoning and serving raw meat. But my god, it was fun.

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So the menu – what we’ve realised is most supperclubs have a theme, be it regional foods or comfort food or seasonal or something. So, I went with spice – I love spices in all courses, particularly puddings. I think people are scared of trying things they don’t know so stick to basic spices and herbs but it’s so fun to try new things and combinations. A few years ago, I came up with an idea for the Periodic Table of Herbs & Spices with my then client, Bart Ingredients. It’s a great way to understand what flavours work together and how to replace one spice with another if you don’t have something in your cupboard.

The menu was still being thrashed out at 9pm on Friday night whilst we were moving our dining table into our front living room but the final menu was this:

Starter

Fennel, chilli, honey roasted beetroot and garlic, thyme, sage roasted tomato tart with goat’s cheese, served with a fennel and blood orange salad and a savoury granola

Thanks to lovely Neil for this photo
Thanks to lovely Neil for this photo

I made the beetroot and tomatoes in advance and kept them in the fridge – made life on the day so much easier. The tomatoes particularly were great – I sliced the base of each tomato and put a sliver of garlic into it, then sprinkled fresh thyme, ripped up sage leaves, olive oil and salt and pepper on top of that, roasted in a low oven for about 45 minutes till they went all squishy.

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I spread the base of the tart with a combination of cream cheese and mint, layered finely sliced beetroot on top of that, piled the tomatoes on top of that and finished with slices of goat’s cheese and a twist of freshly ground black pepper. Then baked in the oven for 15 minutes, till the cheese got a nice golden colour.

Tarts pre cheese
Tarts pre cheese

The granola had been made a week prior to that as it keeps fresh for ages and was sprinkled over the fennel and blood orange salad before serving. For savoury granola, use egg white instead of honey or syrup to get it to stick together – makes for lovely clumps of granola. The granola was mildly spiced but I think it could have used more.

Main

Cumin and coriander crusted pork loin served with roasted garlic chickpea mash and chilli tenderstem broccoli.

The pescetarians got fennel crusted cod

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I marinaded the pork loins (which were pre-prepared by the butcher) in the roasted and ground cumin and coriander seeds, with a little bit of olive oil and a few finely minced cloves of garlic overnight then pan fried for a couple of minutes on each side, then roasted on a bed of apples until the core temperature reached 68-70C. Use a meat thermometer. I have learned that life is too short to soak your own chickpeas but it really helps with managing the budget. For a couple of quid, I made enough mash to serve everyone twice over. Roasted garlic is the best thing ever. We served the pork on the mash with a topping of quick fried coriander. Our guests raved about the broccoli – just blanched for a minute then heat some olive oil with chilli flakes, add the broccoli and pan fry for a few minutes.

Again, thanks Neil :-)   @neilejohnson
Again, thanks Neil 🙂 @neilejohnson

The fennel crusted cod was also marinaded overnight in fennel seeds, olive oil and black pepper then pan fried.

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Dessert

Gingerbread with cinnamon chocolate brownie bites and soil, served with pomegranate and blood orange sorbets and a orange cream 

Guess who? See more of his lovely pictures at Instagram @neilejohnson
Guess who? See more of his lovely pictures at Instagram @neilejohnson

I made two each of trays of gingerbread and brownies which was far too much but lucky I did as I had burnt corners on every tin! The gingerbread was Mary Berry’s recipe, my own brownie recipe (not the cow pat one) but removed the chillis and upped the amount of cinnamon. The sorbets could have been a nightmare – the pomegranate one was a delicious magazine recipe but so confusing. Basically, you need to whip egg whites to soft peaks, make a sugar syrup with cinnamon, leave it to cool, add the pomegranate juice then fold in the egg whites. But egg whites don’t fold into liquids and I don’t have an ice cream maker so after a LOT of panicking, the wino suggested I put the whole lightly frozen layered thing into a blender and blend it all together. So I did. He’s a clever fella. It did separate in the freezer, but I churned it every two hours (dedication) and it came out really well. I made the blood orange sorbet and the orange cream as back ups but because it was all so good, I served it all. And then brought out the burned bits of brownie and the remains of the sorbets and everything got eaten. Safe to say, dessert was the best course.

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Luckily a lot of this could be made in advance so the only actual cooking during the evening was the tart, the pork loin and the cod. But it did mean that I was cooking for a few days in advance, working out what to cook when and how to keep it best fresh.

All in all, I really enjoyed doing it – as you can see from the pictures, I really need to learn to plate up properly, so I’m going to focus on doing that better in the future. If you’re thinking about doing your own in the future, its worth considering having an extra pair of hands on the night because it’s a lot of hard work on your own. My wino was amazing though but I’d even consider one other person just to help washing up etc. I reckon if we do this again, it’ll be in a few months, to allow my feet to recover. Let me know in the comments if you want more info when we do our next Stories and Bon Bons Spice Saturday! Thank you to these beautiful people for being my first run guinea pigs and for the beautiful flowers that now fill my home (I sincerely hope you enjoyed it… and don’t have food poisioning!)

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My food youth

My parents came to Britain from Sri Lanka in the 1960s and for as long as I can remember, my family has been made up of those related by shared ancestry and those who are as close as blood relatives simply due to the fact that their surnames have a lot of letters and cause no end of fun when you’re spelling them for the 17th time to a call centre employee who inevitably asks “oooh, how long did it take you to learn that then?” And then they ask you to pronounce it, to which my standard response is ‘how it’s spelled, obviously’. Because that’s just it.

Anyway.

Because of this large and sprawling family unit, food and feeding people has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Weekends in Peterborough meant all the Sri Lankan families within my home town getting together at one person’s house, bringing a dish each, shoving all the children into a TV room upstairs whilst the women gossiped and the men folk drank whisky and solved all the problems “back home”.

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Wherever these dinners took place, the format was always the same.

The grown ups would be of similar ages, brought together by a shared heritage.  Within each family unit, there’d be at least one kid each, usually two. My sister was often the oldest, I was often the youngest. As there’s only four years between us, as grown ups that’s hardly anything, but as kids it was a lifetime apart.

The kids would always get shoved into a room together to ‘play’. If we were lucky, the house we were in would have a TV in a bedroom so we could all watch something together – Blind Date or Noel’s House Party (TV in the 1980s left a lot to be desired) and not have to play but if we did have to play something, it inevitably ended in tears for someone.

You’d be given a bowl of crisps or peanuts, a bottle of Coke or Fanta and left to get on with it. When dinner was ready, you’d be called downstairs and because no one had a table big enough for us all to fit around, we’d sit on the stairs because it’s weird to eat a plateful of curry in a bedroom, right? Whilst there were always variants, the basic meal was always the same – rice, a few vegetable curries, always paripu (dhal) and at least one meat curry – and if the meat curry was perceived to be too hot, one of the aunties would have roasted some chicken with milder spices ‘for the children’.

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Desserts were also much the same every time: someone would have made a traditional Sri Lankan pudding – wattalapan was the worst (like a sludge coloured, spiced baked caramel pudding – I realise this doesn’t sound that weird, but my god it was disgusting). Or biscuit pudding – Marie biscuits soaked in milk, layered with chocolate mousse (actually not bad). Or pineapple fluff – sickly sweet and weirdly pink. The best of all dessert options was if someone had bought a Vienetta for the kids because it was the 1980s and that was the best dessert ever.

Whilst those regular gatherings stopped for me after I moved to London for university, it’s still incredibly lovely when the whole clan gets together for meals or events. The men’s conversation hasn’t changed – still solving the problems of the world, and the women continue to cook and feed us all. And I’m often still considered one of the kids – refreshing when you’re too old to shop at Forever 21…

For the last few months, I’ve been looking to do something that nourishes my soul and I’ve realised that cooking and entertaining is ingrained in me and energises me. I love to gather together groups of people I love and feed them until they are close to exploding, then forcing another small morsel down their throats. In a nice way. So that’s what I’m going to do. But more on that later.