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/

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A Lemon Trilogy Part 3: Lemon Macarons

After the success of my Raspberry Macarons I decided to complete the ‘Lemon Trilogy’ by making Lemon Macarons for this month’s ‘Easter’ Mactweets theme.  The recipe for the shells are adapted from the Rose Macaron shells I made previously.  I omitted the red food colouring and added 2 tsp of pure lemon oil to the ground almonds, otherwise the recipe is the same. The lemon oil gave a lovely lemon fragrance and flavour to the shells but without the unwanted acidity.

I seemed to master the piping bag much better this time thanks to hints from Bonnie and a really useful macaron template from Deeba’s blog that I placed under the baking parchment. This resulted in much more uniformly sized shells. Some of the shells came out from the oven a bit pale so I think next time I will bake them for a minute or so more as I preferred the crisper golden shells.

The macarons were filled with homemade lemon curd (from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook) the tartness of which contrasted nicely with the richness of the shells.  They made great Easter gifts for our neighbours (who were entertaining family over the holiday weekend so were glad for some ready made petit fours!).

A Lemon Trilogy Part 2: Flourless Whole Lemon and Almond Cannelles

This a a great cake, adapted from a Gary Rhodes recipe. Mrs W. first made them when she was dieting as they have no butter or flour.  They are  sublime served warm with custard. Using whole lemons sounds mad but gives a real depth of flavour. I split the mix between mini cannelle moulds (pictured) and mini loaves. the cannelles were a lovely treat to have after lunch (linguine pomodoro with chorizo). I baked these and lemon macarons as Easter gifts for our neighbours before jetting off to Portugal (to stuff myself with custard tarts and seafood!).

Flourless Whole Lemon and Almond Cannelles (or Cakes)

175 g ground almonds

4 large eggs

1/4 tsp baking powder

3 whole unwaxed lemons

175 g unrefined caster sugar (for those who are on a diet 14 g of Splenda can be used in place of the sugar… I won’t claim it made as good a cake but Mrs W. quite liked it)

  • Pre-heat oven to 180°C.
  • Put the whole lemons in a saucepan, and cover with water (they will float a bit, but cover them as much as you can) and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for at least an hour. Take the lemons out, and keep 100 ml of the cooking water. Cut the lemons in quarters, they’ll be really mushy by now – pick out the pips/seeds. Blitz the whole lemons (skin and everything) and the reserved cooking water into a puree. Pass the puree though a sieve and leave to cool.
  • Add the baking powder to the ground almonds and pass through a sieve.
  • Beat the eggs with the sugar to make a sabayon. It needs to look like lightly whipped cream… it starts off quite yellow but eventually go creamy and white (being lazy, I used the Kenwood with a whisk attachment).
  • Add the puree and the ground almonds to the sabayon  and whisk lightly at low speed for 1 minute.
  • Pour the batter into greased loaf tins or moulds and bake… small cannelles will take about 20 minutes, mini-loaves 30-35 minutes and if you use two big loaf tins maybe ten minutes longer. Check the cakes are cooked with a skewer.
  • Leave them to cool in the tin or mould then pop them out and enjoy!

A Lemon Trilogy Part 1: Lemon and Pecorino Linguine

Mrs W. and I are expecting our second child in early August. She is about 22 weeks into the pregnancy right now and has taken a notion for lemons and all things lemony tasting. Fortunately I had somewhat of a glut of said citrus in the fridge right now so before we head off to Portugal on our hols I thought I would make best use of them.

I have been in a bit of a cooking funk of late, but with a change to the clocks (which means I can at least start cooking in daylight) and some signs of slightly better weather my enthusiasm for spending time in the kitchen is slowly returning.  Cooking with lemons  filled the house with a lovely fresh fragrance so it seems like spring may finally get here!

It is also high time for me to get some veg into the garden (somewhat late I know but the growing season starts somewhat later in Northern Ireland… we had snow this week!). I have hardly touched the plot since last autumn (apart from putting in garlic and early season broad beans and peas before winter set in) but I hope to get stuff sown before we head away and see some signs of growth when we get back.

Back to the lemon theme… I made a great supper based on a Nigel Slater recipe  of linguine with a lemon, olive oil and pecorino dressing. This really is just the easiest peasiest thing to make… so simple but so tasty.

Lemon and Pecorino Linguine

About 250 g linguine (I use De Cecco brand)

Juice from 1 large lemon

1 tsp grated lemon zest

75 ml extra virgin olive oil

75 g grated pecorino  (and a little extra to serve)

  • Put a large pan of water on to boil. When it is bubbling furiously, salt it generously then add the linguine. Let it cook at an excited boil for about 8-10 minutes.
  • Put the half the lemon juice and olive oil a bowl and beat briefly until emulsified like a vinaigrette. Beat in the grated pecorino with a grinding of black pepper. Taste and add additional lemon juice as required.
  • Drain the pasta (leaving a trace of the cooking water) and add the lemon and pecorino ‘sauce’. Toss the linguine until well coated and serve immediately with extra grated pecorino.

Raspberry Macarons

I have been wanting to bake macarons for a while and inspired by the wonderful creations by Edward Kimber, Aran Goyoaga and Helene Dujardin I decided to have a crack at making my own. Pierre Herme is the undisputed master of this elegant confection and the recipe for the rose shells are from his book “Macaron” (soon to be released in English) and can be found here.

They were not as hard to make as I thought they would be (even though I have never used a piping bag before) but I did pick up a few hints that seemed to help.

  • I “aged” my egg whites before use by leaving them covered with a clean tea towel at room temperature for 24 hours.
  • Don’t over boil the syrup before adding to the egg whites (use a cooking thermometer…this is mine).
  • Leave the piped macarons to dry for 30 minutes before baking (the surfaces should be dry to the touch).
  • Once the macarons are baked remove the  parchment from the baking sheets so the macarons do not overcook.
  • Do not remove the macarons from the parchment until they are fully cooled.

I made a raspberry buttercream to fill the rose macaron shells. A handful of fresh raspberries were blitzed using a stick blender and the puree passed through a sieve to remove the seeds.  Butter (160g) and  icing sugar (320g) were beaten in the Kenwood until pale and creamy and the raspberry puree added. However I added too much raspberry and my buttercream split and became sloppy! I managed to rescue the filling by beating in additional icing sugar.

I was pleased with the final result and they tasted as good as they looked. We ate several whilst watching the rugby yesterday and they made a great gift for the birthday dinner Mrs W. and I went to afterwards. Unfortunately I was so busy yesterday that I didn’t manage to post this in time for the mactweets blogroll for macaron bakers.  Oh well… maybe next time.