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Archive for August, 2011

Of all the supper clubs and pop ups now present across Bristol, the Blue Door Supper Club seems to be both elusive and exclusive! Rave reviews from high profile guests among the food world since day one meant that it was difficult enough as it was to book a place, but the task became even harder once Sam followed his dreams and took on a job as a chef. 

After months and months of trying (and trying not to appear too desperate!) to get on the mailing list we received our invite to supper in May, only for the evening to be postponed a few days before. A bitter disappointment. We would just have to hang on a little longer and pray that we’d be free when the new date was proposed. That day came… 

Before we arrived, we had no idea what would be on the menu, only that there’d be a focus on tomatoes, beef, summer fruits and cheese.

As it turned out, we were treated to a breath-taking array of produce from Sam and Becky’s allotment, beef from the new Whiteladies Road butchers, Ruby and White, and even some nuts from the local park. Not unusual for them – we learned that this is a rare-breed of couple who don’t shop in supermarkets. The food they eat every day and serve at the supper club is either home grown, foraged or bought from local independent shops.

What of the food? It was wonderful and plentiful. We started with a selection of bread and a light and fragrant salad of heritage tomatoes (all the top London chefs have them on the menu right now!). The plate looked beautiful with slices of small, medium and large tomatoes in shades of green, red and yellow adorned with ewe’s curd, delicate borage flowers and thyme leaves. 

We ate first with our eyes again when presented with our main course of skirt, served very rare with anchovy butter and accompanied by purple potatoes, green beans and girolles. There was also a cracking looking vegetarian option of salt baked beetroot with Ragstone cheese, spelt and wild fennel.

Next came an intensely flavoured shot of blackcurrant water ice, which was so delicious I could have eaten a bucket full, and then a choice of strawberry and elderflower jelly or baked plums. It was baked plums all round on our table. Soft, tangy plums balanced with sweet shards of caramel, crunchy cobnuts and thick, almost ice-cream like clotted cream. The meal was rounded off with a great wedge of Gorwydd Caerphilly. Phwoar!     

Becky was at ease front of house, making us all feel at home in their dining room, and happy to talk throughout the evening about the dishes, the ingredients or the cooking, whilst Sam remained calm and looked relaxed and methodical in the kitchen, working in full view of us all. 

Given it was a Wednesday night, there were still plenty of corks popping and the room was filled with chatter and laughter. We shared a table with four other guests, all new to the supper club experience. I’m sure, like us, they’re now hooked – we parted company leaving them with a list of other supper clubs and pop ups to visit next! Great food, good company, fabulous hosts and a full belly. The perfect evening!

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In the preface of The Gentle Art of Cookery, Mrs Leyel explains what makes her book stand out from the crowd. The most striking of these is the statement that the “recipes are arranged in the only practical way, that is, under their principal ingredients”. 

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that two of my quite recent book reviews have been Simon Hopkinson’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories and Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty, the arrangement of both of these books being just that, by ingredient. 

This method of organisation of recipes in a book is still considered novel and yet, even in 1925 when The Gentle Art of Cookery was published, Mrs Leyel was attempting to convince her audience that it made sense “because it is more economical to do as the French do; shop first and then arrange the dinner according to what is most plentiful in the market, than to go out and buy what is necessary for a pre-arranged menu.” 

Unusually for a cookery book of the era, the publication contains many unconventional recipes for an English cook of the time as well as a chapter, Arabian Nights, which drew on the influences of her knowledge of Middle Eastern cookery using ingredients such as pistachios, rosewater and pomegranates, which would have been difficult to source but which are quite common today. 

Another surprising inclusion for a book of this period is a whole chapter devoted to children’s cookery. Not just cooking for children but recipes which children can make, on their own or supervised. Mrs Leyel maintained that cooking should be fun, magical and part of a child’s education and she set out to help home cooks get children involved in the kitchen. This is still so relevant today; entire books and TV programmes are dedicated to cooking with and for children. 

Whilst cookery books have come a long way since the days of The Gentle Art of Cookery, with the inclusion of tantalising photography, books introducing us to cuisines from every corner of the planet, and even those explaining how to bring molecular gastronomy to our own home, there is nevertheless a place for the likes of this book in our kitchen. There are still lessons to be learnt and good recipes to follow from these classics. Only time will tell if almost 100 years from now the nation will continue to enjoy the wares of Delia Smith, Nigel Slater and other great cookery book writers of our time in the same way we are rediscovering the books in the Classic Voices in Food series.

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Xavier Marcel Boulestin wasn’t a trained chef but a home cook; he just loved and understood food. Food and cooking were a huge part of his life and he had a great affinity with it as a result of growing up in France, learning to cook and appreciate food from his mother and grandmother. 

As a result, the recipes in Simple French Cooking for English Homes are all about simple, tasty, cheap, family-friendly French food, focussing on making the most of what you’ve got and getting the best out of it – using leftovers to their full potential and minimising waste. Not much of a wonder that it sold to a wide audience and influenced a revival of good food after WWI. 

At the time of publication, his recipes were very unlike what people understood French cooking to be about. He distilled the myths about French food and made it accessible. Among the chapters on soups, sauces, egg dishes, fish, meat, vegetables and sweets, he covers a wide range of dishes many of which are now known to be French classics. There’s even a chapter dedicated to salads, something we English were clearly doing wrong in his opinion! 

Boulestin has quite a distinct style of writing which, when reading the recipes, makes you feel like you’re by his side in the kitchen watching as he cooks. His recipes are concise without much detail, very few timings and no ingredients lists and yet still clear and easy to follow. He appeals to cooks to use taste combined with their instincts and imagination as well as some creativity to produce a good meal rather than follow exact measurements and instructions. 

His recipe for hachis parmentier, for example, simply says “melt a good piece of butter, add parsley, three small onions, or a large one, and shallots all chopped together. When cooked, put in your cold meat (anything leftover from different dishes will do), salt and pepper, stir well and cook for a little while. Butter a fireproof dish, put in your mixture, cover with potato purée and brown in the oven.” What could be simpler? 

Simple French Cooking for English Homes is a lovely book which warrants a place in the Classic Voices in Food series.

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