Mexican supperclub preparations

Preparation for this month’s supperclub have been so much more stress-free than last month. Almost too stress-free. I was reduced to having a few sleepless nights about how unstressed I was and whether this spelt trouble or not…

Well, maybe I was a little stressed about the food.. Mexican food is truly out of my comfort zone. I’ve eaten lovely Mexican food in Mexico and so-so Mexican food in the UK but I didn’t want to recreate any of that. What I wanted my night to be about – was a chance to use the exciting flavours of the warmer climes mixed in with the traditional French techniques of cooking associated with “fine dining”. Which is all fine in theory – except- I didn’t really have recipes for that kind of thing so I was taking a punt on my ability to cobble something together. Cobble something outstandingly delicious and refined together. Actually… thinking back… I was pretty damn nervous.

I did raid the bookshelf for a few things that I has tried and loved before. Tom Aiken’s vanilla and pink peppercorn cerviche. A variation on Delia’s chickpea and coriander soup. I messed around with Denis Cotter’s recipes on chard dolmas (re-invented as chard tamales) and his cashew nut loaf which I baked as mini muffins and topped with cumin sour cream. But I hadn’t made some of these things before and I was amending the recipes of the rest so with a few of July’s diners returning to the September Supperclub I couldn’t help but worry if it wouldn’t be disappointing for them in comparison…

The Trials and the Tribulations:

First up, the cashew nut muffins were a bit of a headache. Now, I’ve never made nut loaf before and I’m sure Dennis Cotter’s recipe was perfect for nut loaf (as he’s never failed me thus far) but the recipe created a batter that was really far too stodgy to make decent muffins so after (a) 6 incremental additions of extra egg, (b) 6 practice bakes of tester muffins, and (c) 6 eaten muffins, I finally had a mix I was happy with.


Aren’t the muffins adorable! And mini too, which you can’t see but they were! Adorably mini.  (You’ll have to exclude the pictures however – they were  all taken on my camera phone and there ain’t no camera phone out there that can do justice to the Mexican spice fest laid out that evening – biased self-promotion aside).

Next up doughnuts: I’ve never made yeasted doughnuts at home. I’ve made a few batches in restaurants wehere I’ve been doing work experience and minus a decent kitchen aid (or even doughhooks that actually fit into the hand mixer) I’m left with a strong relucatance of trying to make and knead what is a supremely sticky and wet doughnut dough. And then I found Paul Ainsworth’s recipe on the internet which basically involved deep frying frozen choux mix and with this recipe to hand – on I forged…

This supperclub preparation was full of “testers”. It seems like the first supperclub I held had exhausted my repertoire of “posh” recipes and I found myself amending half a dozen found recipes that I hadn’t used before and so in the weeks coming upto the supperclub I was practicing different sorbets and ice-creams, the rice pudding, the savoury muffins, the doughnuts. Wow those doughnuts were a pain. I couldn’t make them work from frozen, they would cook on the outside but not the inside so many attempts later I found they worked best if you didn’t freeze them but you partially prebaked them (like profiterols) and then deep-fried them.


The doughnuts had to all be done on the morning of the supperclub for freshness and the coriander chutney was piped into the doughnuts just moments before serving. Really. How did I manage not to stress about this!

The main dish led the charge for being the most vexatious dish on the menu. Stuffing slow cooked lamb with a spicy chicken mousse seems good on paper. I think it sounds positively tasty on paper actually. But the move from “fancy menu item” to reality required nerves of steel and steady hands to roll the mess that was the stuffed lamb, into a clingfilmed sausage ballotine to be poached in hot water. I do actually have a picture of the mess that was the pre-ballotined stuffed lamb but I won’t test your credulity and share that photo. All that needs to be said for any keen ballotiners out there, is – persist. Against all reasonable belief, once poached the clingfilmed lamb will actually hold its shape. An unsolvable mystery of life.

Clingfilmed lamb

So much more to say but I’m limiting my wordcount to items that I have pictures of. And we are left with a really quite random picture of some peppers laid out on a tray for roasting.


Roasting the peppers was really quite a last minute thought but I had the inkling that for a Mexican main, the dish was really rather beige looking – what with the meat and the sauce and the breadfruit dauphinoise… I though a splash of julienned red pepper would look rather nice. And with the success of last month’s confited tomato, I prepared it in a similar manner, (low temperature, long cooking time) and 4 hours later, out popped some confited pepper. This confiting lark is really rather tasty.

Anyway onto the next post – the supperclub itself – where it all finally came together. All the experiments and testers of the last month proved their worth because the event passed smoothly, probably more smoothly than July and the quality was more consistent. I’ll admit though, given that dessert was served around midnight, we overran slightly… I think the October supperclub will need to start earlier in the evening – probably 6pm. Don’t be late, you know who you are (everybody basically!)

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Weekend of the July Supperclub – peaceful tension

Poor chronological ordering of my posts mean that I’m posting about my supperclub preparations already having done the supperclub and being pleased with the result. Thus, no suspense, no anticipation. Much overrated emotions I find, I’m happy with my current emotional state of “pleased its all over”… Anyway, in keeping with my undying devotion to every mindnumbing detail of everything everywhere, I’m duty-bound to give you a run down of the crazy prep going on the weekend of the supperclub,

So first thing on Friday, I took the pork out of its brine. For anyone who’s interested (and you should be interested because brine is a miracle technique that makes for fabulous meat), I used an equilibrium brine of 5%, and added some brown sugar, juniper, black pepper, coriander, garlic, onion, orange and lemon rind and fruit. Oh and then I threw in some pineapple as an afterthought because I’ve read that its a good meat tenderiser. You can see how cloudy the brined became after I’d removed the pork belly, this is because the brine acts to leech out the blood from the animal which improves the flavour and moisture of the meat.

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What next, well I made the sorbet and garlic tuiles last week so the only thing  left to do was to confit the tomatoes the night before and prepare the tomato tartar on the day of the supperclub. Yes – I used a muffin tray to confit the tomatoes. And a good idea it was too – if all else fails I’ll make my fortune selling muffin trays as specialist tomato confit equipment.

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The next (painful) part of the evening was to smoke the quails eggs. I boiled the eggs for 150 seconds having left the eggs to warm to room temperature. Smoking food takes place at whatever temperature the environment is so given the spectacularly warm few weeks we’ve had, I’ve had to wait until nighttime for cooler temperatures to prevail. This involves me setting the smoker up on the roof around midnight and coming up every two hours or so to check that the firestarter hasn’t blown out…

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Last week I smoked chocolate for my smoked chocolate truffles. This week it was the turn of the quails’ eggs.

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I was planning to make the bread dough on the Saturday night and let it prove in the fridge overnight.  Apparently, the longer fermentation also improves the flavour of the bread. However come Saturday night I had zilch fridge space so it was instead a 6am start on Sunday morning to get my bread going.

Turned out nicely though.

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I pickled my carrots and radishes on the Saturday afternoon as I only wanted a short pickling time. I pickled the mushrooms the week before however and actually I think the texture would have been better if I had also pickled them the day before instead.

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Pea soup was made on Saturday and frozen immediately to preserve the greenness. However as lovely as it looked freshly made, on defrosting I had to sieve it a second time because it looked grainy. Thinking about it now I think I should have either made it on the day or I should have used a whisk or blender to bliz the pea particles so that it suspended in the liquid (which is probably why the soup appeared so smooth when it was freshly made). Asburtin End of Week Two and Week three 016Supperclub weekend 084

I wish I’d taken more picture of the preparations! The garlic tuilles, the chocolate meringues, the pork once confited, the spectacular orange and red beetroot puree!  Ah well,,,, There is always next time. In fact, Sunday August 25th to be precise.



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One week before my first supperclub

So this is a tale of pain and woe. Actually its not too bad. In fact, given that I had to make a three hour journey from Devon to London to spend a weekend in 30C heat in my kitchen with the ovens on 18 hours of the day, I had quite a nice weekend.

This was the weekend of preparation. Of a limited kind. Annoyingly there’s plenty I can’t do until the weekend of the supperclub but I did get my fresh stocks made up and frozen.

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I made my tomato sorbet for the starter that I’m planning. I spent an hour tending the tomatoes you know, blanching, skinning, deseeding, macedoining – the usual concassing nonsense. The stew I made for the sorbet was yummy though!

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I made my white chocolate gin truffles and I smoked my chocolate and made smoked chocolate truffles. I went on a smoking course about a month back and it really got me thinking about smoke as a flavour rather than a preservation method. Its an interesting flavour because its uniquely flavoured – not sweet, salty, bitter etc – but just smoky. Its hard thinking of foods combinations that could work well with smoke (apart from your standard fish and ham) but I reckon that chocolate could stand up well to it. And the smoke expert on the course mentioned that he’d smoked raisins so I thought I’d bung that in to. And bread. I’m getting my money’s worth…

Smoking chocolate


Oh and I made the mushroom mix for my vegetarian Scotch eggs. And meringues.

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And I also made fudge. Twice. And given that I’m posting a few days later I can exclusively divulge that I made it a further two times before I finally got it right.

Busy weekend but fun!


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So at the end of the evening for my July supperclub, I’d like to offer fudge. Disconcertingly I have recently found out that fudge is an American invention (which doesn’t sit well with my supperclub theme) but let’s just keep that between you and me. The rest of the world I hope will just associate it with the Clotted Cream counties.

I have fond memories of fudge being a perfectly simple thing to make. The fond, and admittedly vague, memories involve my mum putting a tin of condensed milk in a pan of boiling water. After a long time it became fudge. After a really really long time, it became toffee. Since then, I have come to the conclusion the practice of Fudge is a true skill. This discovery is a recent one, obviously, because if I’d known the trouble in store, I’d never have put it on the supperclub menu. So four fudge attempts later what have I learnt?

Fudge is like (non-gelatine based) Turkish Delight, there are no good recipes out there on the internet. I’m not saying that the plethora of recipes out there are bad but they rarely seem to envisage the multitude of things that can go wrong. Reading a recipe is like a description of an alternative universe, it’ll talk of thickening, gloss, setting, losing shine, rolling boil – and all the while you are staring at your mix of (at various times) inert milky beige water, a spluttering volcanic lava of dark toffee, planks of black crust sailing across your pan, wondering when you’ll hit the “soft boil stage”. Anyway after looking at different sites, I pieced together all the different things I was doing wrong and finally got my perfect fudge. Far be it from me to presume to provide a recipe for fudge but for my reference at least I can set out the recipe and my personal “troubleshooting guide”.

300ml of evaporated milk

350g sugar

100g soft butter

vanilla pod (or in my case, smoked raisins)

1) Prepare a 15cm x15cm cake tin or glass square dish (which is what I used) by lining it with buttered greaseproof. You need to do this now, you will have zero time once the fudge is ready. The tin will look smaller than you need but trust me, your fudge will reduce down.

2) Bung everything apart from the vanilla into a large saucepan (which should be at least twice as big as the mix).

2) Heat gently until the butter has melted fully into the mix. You don’t really need to stir at this point provided that you’ve already mixed the sugar into the evaporated milk so that it doesn’t sit at the bottom of the pan and caramalise separately.

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3) Once you have a pale coloured liquid of the mixed up ingredients, whack the heat up and watching it start to bubble.Asburtin End of Week Two and Week three 056



4) Stir occasionally. No need to go mad, once a minute should be fine at early stages when the mix is still thin and liquidy. In fact if I’m being honest with myself I had a 10 minute shower when the mix first started boiling (this was during my fourth and successful attempt – promise). It does take a while for anything interesting to start happening and if you’re fudge watching from the beginning, you run the very real risk of removing it from the heat too early, in panicked excitement before its really ready. I personally think you don’t need to stir it at all for the first 10 minutes, and then just a little occasional stirring until it really starts to thicken (and the risk of the bottom of the pan burning becomes rather real).

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5) 15 minutes later it should be ready. It should reach the soft boil stage meaning that when you drop the mixture in the water, it basically sets into fudge in the water. Sets like proper fudge I mean, not watery or mushy fudge but fudge just how you’d want to eat it. The stuff in your pan should look like fudge left out in the sun too long. When the fudge is ready to be taken of the heat, there should be no doubt in your mind about whether it is ready because it should really look like molten fudge.

6) At this point turn off the heat and pause briefly while it stops bubbling. Then start stirring the fudge with a wooden spoon. You don’t need to go mad here, you’re just preventing crystals forming, you should do this for about 5 minutes. I read that you need to do it until the mixture thickens and loses its gloss. But my mix at this point is already thick and it didn’t really ever loose its shine. However it did create a lovely smooth grained fudge anyway so just beat it for 5 minutes and I think you’ve worked hard enough to deserve a nice fine grain.

7) If you forgot to stir the pan while it was boiling or are concerned that the bottom of the pan has burnt, I would transfer the contents from the original pan to a new one before starting to stir the mix again, this is so you don’t pick up the black from the bottom of the burnt pan when you’re stirring the fudge mix. Alternatively you could be a more vigilant stirrer than me.

8) Once stirred and getting cool to the point that you have to spoon the mix into the tray because it doesn’t pour well (although it should have just enough give to sigh itself into your prepared dish and fill out the corners), then stop stirring and put into your tray.

9) Leave to set, it should be evident within an hour that it is setting.

10) Voila, fudge.

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*UPDATE* It was in fact this very same fudge that made it to the table for my July supperclub along with the smoked chocolate truffle and the white chocolate gin truffle…

Supperclub weekend 107


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Supperclub preparations

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