Not blogging

It’s been so long since I have posted that while chatting to somebody this week I remembered that I used to occasionally post to this blog. The fact is that my life has changed and continues to change since I last posted. To summarise the following events have occurred:

Mrs W had our second child
I got seriously fed up with my job, cooking and life in general (this phase lasted quite some time and wasn’t particularly dignified so my sincere thanks go to Mrs W for her tolerance and understanding)
I decided to do something about the job
I got a new job in a new country
Mrs W started work on our third child
I moved to said new country without Mrs W to start new job

And that’s just about where things stand. I’m still in a bit of a cooking rut but that has more to do with having nobody to cook for (cue sad music!) allied to the pathetic kitchen facilities in my pokey studio flat than anything else so once the family is over and we have moved into our new house with our new kitchen I imagine my enthusiasm will return. In the meantime I am enjoying my new food culture in Germany. Yes I have moved to GERMANY … land of black forest gateau, currywurst, leibkuchen, glühwein and variations on themes of cabbage. My children will be going to a real KINDERGARTEN.

I miss my wife and my girls … It’s lonely out here… Welling up… Enough said.

Foodwise I didn’t know quite what to expect but I have been very pleasantly surprised. The bread here is really is fantastic, the quality and variety is amazing! It just goes to show what utter rubbish we buy in the UK. With the bread i’ve also been on a bit of a soup kick recently…the Germans take soup very seriously. During my limited shopping forays (new job means i’ve been doing long days in an effort to get myself established so not too much time for shopping) I have been very impressed at the produce…fresh porcini in the supermarket? Mmm….yes please!

Drinkwise ….it’s bloody GERMANY so of course the beer is good beyond my wildest imaginings.

So things are looking up, I’m enjoying the new job and will (due to the enlightened attitude of my new employers to flexible working and no work commute) have significantly more time to spend with my family in our new house and hopefully plenty of time to rediscover the cooking bug.

And when that happens maybe I’ll get off my fat arse and post about it…. Although we are going to Spain for a holiday quite soon so perhaps I’ll just post up some some gratuitous ice cream photography before then.

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Thai Green Papaya Salad

Well here we are, waiting for arrival of baby version 2.0 and Mrs W. is now well overdue.  All credit to her though as she is bearing the strains of late pregnancy in good humour.

We made a Thai green papaya salad in the hope it might move things along. I didn’t have the hoped for effect but it did taste fantastic. The salad was adopted from a recipe in Gourmet Food For A Fiver by Jason Atherton.

The trick was to taste and balance the sweet (palm sugar), sour (lime juice), salty (fish sauce) and hot (red chilli) flavours.  Dried shrimp brings a savoury background note, tomatoes and coriander add freshness.  Topped with crushed peanuts this bowl contains an explosion of textures and tastes.

The image is from my new Olympus EP-1 camera which I am slowly getting to grips with.

So our tribe should be one person larger by the weekend… here’s hoping all goes smoothly.

Daring Bakers: Croquembouche

The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri. The recipes I used for the choux buns and the pastry cream were from the BBC good food website. The more observant of you may have spotted it is now late July and I am posting this challenge about 2 months late… this is a result of abject laziness, an intense couple of months of work and the impeding arrival of our second child.

Compared to making a suet pudding this looked to be a real challenge for me as delicacy and precision are not my fortes generally when handling the sticky stuff. However C.’s  second birthday was coming up so it made an ideal project for a pretty party cake. In order to make and assemble the various elements during the working week I made the Croquembouche over the course of 3 days.

Day 1

Making the choux pastry was easier than I expected although I initially forgot the water which resulted in my pastry resembling nothing more than a superheated roux.  Remembering to add the water resulted in a near miraculous transformation and the rest of the process of choux bun creation was simple enough.  My piping bag tips were a bit fine for this so I just used the locking ring on the end of the bag with no tip attached and this worked really nicely. To get my buns uniform I placed a  macaron template under the baking parchment.

As soon as the pastry was cooked I made a 1cm slit on the side of each bun to let the steam escape. (This stops them turning soggy as they cool).The buns were returned to the oven for a further 5 minutes to dry them out,  transferred to a wire rack to cool and then stored in tupperwares.

I made a pastry cream to fill the buns but flavoured with lemon zest and Cointreau (flaming all the alcohol off the booze before adding to the pastry cream as we would be serving to kids).  This was also stored in a tupperware overnight in the fridge, the surface of the cream covered with a circle of greaseproof paper to prevent a skin forming. So far… so good…

Day 2

The buns were crisped up in the oven and then filled with the pastry cream.  This sounds hard but is actually very easy.

Mrs W. used her engineering prowess to construct a suitable cone shaped mould from 2 pieces of A2 card lined with foil.  This would allow me to assemble the cone from the top down by placing the mould upside down in a large Pimms jug (so the tip was facing downwards) and packing with the filled buns. Melted white chocoalte was  applied generously to cement the bus together. The filled cone was placed (still upside down in the jug) to set in the fridge overnight.

Day 3

The next morning the whole assembly was turned out. The best removal tactic was to cut the mould along one edge and peel it off VERY carefully! Cue drum roll…….

Success! Now it was just left to to decorate with sugar flowers and spun sugar.

Like macarons, this initially looked an intimidating project but given a but of planning was actually fairly easy as each element that comprises the dessert is fairly simple.  I was really pleased with the results and I may well do another one for Christmas!

Noma… World’s Best?

I was lucky enough to have the best meal of my life at Noma earlier this year. There are rumors that’s it’s in line to be awarded the No.1 spot in the S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants(organised by Restaurant Magazine) tonight following in the footsteps of El Bulli, The Fat Duck  and The French Laundry.

I have to admit to mixed feelings about this

… on one hand I really, really hope it’s true as the Chef Redzepi and his team deserve all the recognition going for what they have created.

… however I worry that it will probably also mean that mere mortals like myself will stand no chance of getting a reservation and experiencing Noma’s unique experience (I would love to be proved wrong about the latter… please keep the online booking system!). This would be a shame as its the most pretension free fine dining restaurant I have ever eaten in.

If anyone can figure out why it’s only got 2 Michelin stars let me know…

Update: rumours were true… my warmest congratulations to the Noma crew!

Plot 15 Supperclub

Supperclubs or “underground restaurants” have become one of the big fashions in food over the past couple of years. The idea is simple, some brave amateur cook (or cooks) invites a bunch of random strangers into their own home and cooks dinner. Guests pay a ‘contribution’ to cover the cost of the meal (perhaps leaving a bit extra for the toil of the hosts) and bring their own drinks. With the rise of social networking and the profusion of food blogs getting the word out about such enterprises is now relatively easy. So perhaps it was just a matter of time before two adventurous souls (the heroic Jenny and Sarah) had a go in Belfast.

It just so happens that two of my favourite things are going out to eat and meeting new people over dinner so when I heard about the Plot 15 supperclub starting in Belfast I was very keen to try it out. Mrs W. offered to make it a birthday treat and after an email or two we were booked in.  A couple of days before the event the address details were emailed out.

We arrived at a large terraced house in the university district excited but somewhat nervous. We were greeted warmly at the door and I soon had a glass of wine in my hand and got chatting to the other guests. Canapes of hard-boiled quail’s eggs with toasted cumin and salt were already on the table and along with a roaring log fire were a sign of good things to come.

A large communal table had been beautifully set for the 12 diners. dishes were plated in a small serving kitchen off the main dining are (the main cooking was done in another kitchen). The service was warm friendly and accomplished. Apparently we were the sixth supperclub that they had catered, after some exposure in the Secret Belfast facebook group and the local press they were now booked though April.

We started with spicy sweet potato soup topped with crispy Jerusalem artichoke shavings and served with warm pitta bread. The soup was rich and well seasoned, the sweetness of the potato nicely balanced against the spice.

My main course was a roasted whole mackerel in lemon and freshly ground Indian spices with dahl and basmati rice. The mackerel was beautifully moist with crisp skin. The dish was fragrant with lemon and coriander and had a subtle hint of spice.

Mrs W. doesn’t do whole fish on the bone so she opted for the vegetarian choice of saag paneer with dahl and basmati rice and said nice things about it! The combination of the fish rice and dal was well balanced and so good that not a whole lot was left once I had finished!

Dessert was a fragrant Tunisian orange & almond cake served with thick greek yoghurt. The cake was moist, sweet and fragrant and very moreish.

The real pleasure of the evening though was not the food (very good though it was) however but the warm hospitality of our hosts and the pleasure of sharing a meal with new and interesting company. We lingered over our coffees and wine and eventually headed home having had a fun and memorable night. Talking to our hostesses the motivation behind the project appeared simple: they enjoyed cooking and wanted to meet new some new people. The menu (which will change monthly) will feature local, seasonal food some of which will be sourced from their Belfast allotment

It’s probably not for everyone, which is good because only nice people should go (I like the fact it is (was) a bit of a secret). You need to leave your fussiness at the door … remember it is a supperclub not a restaurant … you are a guest not a customer. But if you like dinner parties but don’t fancy the shopping, cooking, sorting invites, washing up etc the this may well be your bag. You’ll get a good dinner and maybe end up with some new friends.

Amongst the party was another intrepid food blogger, Sarah … here is her take on the nights events. Thanks (and credit) go to Sarah for letting me use her gorgeous photographs (I took some pictures on my phone but they were rubbish)… check out her blog.

I will be back again … it was great craic! Thanks to all who were there for making it such a great evening (and to the guy who didn’t show up … shame on you!).

Maybe I’ll even have a go at doing a supperclub myself … there’s a thought …

Plot 15 Supperclub serves a 3 course set menu dinner twice a month
Suggested donation of £20
contact: plot15supperclub@gmail.com or 07780 787453
website: http://plot15supperclub.wordpress.com/