Monday, 19 March 2012

Review: Kitchen Porter Supper Club

Last night I was brave. Or foolish, depending on your sense of adventure. I went for dinner with 19 people I don't know, in a stranger's house.I discovered the Edinburgh Cake Ladies via a blog, and last October went along to a meeting, clutching my cake nervously. I was welcomed warmly, given advice on how to stop my frosting melting, and went away feeling inspired. Since then, I have kept an eye on their events and been disappointed that I have been too late in applying for places... until the invitation to the supper club arrived in my inbox.

I arrived nervously, clutching my bottle of wine, and was welcomed in by Mark, the chef and host at Kitchen Porter. We collected in his living room, where we sipped Prosecco and nibbled canapes.
Delicious cheese pastries, olives, and Parmesan baskets with pine nuts, basil and tomatoes.

After some chatting, laughing, and mingling, Mark introduced himself and told us a brief history of Kitchen Porters. As a professional chef who has turned to teaching catering students, he missed the buzz of cooking for guests, and along with his wife, decided to set up a supper club.

We were ushered through the kitchen, to our places at the table. We ate...
 Cream of Artichoke Soup
Delicious brown bread rolls
Pan fried red mullet, with pickled vegetables, spinach and fennel puree
 Borders Lamb two ways, with creamed potatoes, peas, garlic wild mushrooms and a beautiful jus 
 Deconstructed Carrot Cake - complete with candided carrots and a refreshing sorbet
 Our meal finished with tea and coffee...
 ...served with delicious chocolates

Earlier on during Saturday morning, I'd been looking at another post by the Cake Ladies, which mentioned a pudding club hosted by The Inside Out Chef. I had a look at the website, thinking that an evening of puddings sounded like a dream, but too nervous to put a deposit down on a ticket. I decided to see how Kitchen Porters went first. On her website, Wendy described her first experience of a supper club, which alleviated my worries. Until I was on the bus, clutching my bottle of wine, desperately trying to work out where to get off.
I needn't have worried. The food was lovely and the company warm, fun and chatty. At one point, I ended up having a lesson about twitter, after confessing that I wasn't entirely sure how it worked. Someone commented that it was rare to get 20 women in a room without bitching - there was none, only laughter and chatter. And - it turned out that to my left was Wendy herself. Needless to say that by the end of the evening, I'd handed over my cash and was excitedly planning a car share to Supper Club experience number 2!

Kitchen Porter Supper Club, Edinburgh
twitter: @kitchenporteruk

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Review: Urban Angel

There are certain times when I feel the need for a cake and wine. Sadly, most places don't sell these two in combination. Tea and cake will cut it if I can find anywhere that has a table- but there is something rather marvellous about a mid-afternoon gossip and a treat on a Saturday.

A friend introduced me to Urban Angel a year or two ago and since then it's long opening hours and off-the-beaten-track-from-the-rest-of-town locations have made it perfect for catching up with friends. I love that I can pop in for a cup of coffee after work, and not feel guilty for not eating a meal.
My friend and I were feeling particularly in need of refreshment, so went for a glass of wine and a treat each. One chocolate nut brownie, one plum and frangipane tart. Both came served with a dollop of whipped cream and a rather nice berry compote- this wasn't so necessary for the frangipane, but they really set the brownie off. It was definatly chocolatey, but verging on dry and crumbly - not a bit of goo in sight, even if the portion was generous. Without the extras it may have been dry, which is never good for a brownie. The frangipane on the other hand probably didn't need the extras. The pastry was light and crumbly, and the filling somehow both rich and light - almondy fruity perfection. The roasted fruit baked in was absolutely delicious, still slightly tart.

There are pro and cons to Urban Angel. I like their cakes and wine. They're tasty. They're open at non-standard times, have a nice light and airy atmosphere, and the staff have been accommodating when a friend with allergies asked about ingredients and substitutions. I like that their ethos is to use as many local ingredients as possible, and to aim for organic meat and free range eggs. I like that they recycle.
I don't like that our treats were £5.50. Each. Yes, really. The wine was restaurant prices - £3.80 for a small (175ml) glass and £5.30 for a large (250ml) glass. For comparison, a pot of fair trade tea is £2.20.
This is a place to have a treat, rather than a regular coffee.

Afternoon refreshments for two, including a small glass of wine each: £18.60.

Urban Angel - 121 Hanover Street and 1 Forth Street, Edinburgh.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Recipe: Mushroom Soup

Mushrooms are funny things. They are unappetising in colour, smell and texture, but big and tasty on flavour. I feel a bit sorry for them in a way. Like many people - I can't stand a slimy mushroom. I've never understood the 'stuffed mushroom' fad that refuses to go away. Although on reflection, this may be because I hate it when people give them to vegetarians and expect them to be excited.
I am still ploughing on with my eternal battle to Empty The Pantry. It's going well - the looming threat of having to move house is spurring me to eat some interesting combinations, try new things and revisit ingredients that I wasn't convinced about first time round.

When I was a student, I went through a phase of eating huge amounts of mushroom risotto. I'm not entirely sure where this fad came from, although I think it may have had something to do with the oil store on Borough Market, and the truffle infusion that I was persuaded to buy, and then didn't know what to do with.

I always have a packet of dried mushrooms in my cupboard. Their texture and colour is so much more appealing than fresh. The smell makes me think of camping - wet, damp, woody and earthy. But now that the risotto fad has disappeared for the moment, they have been neglected. Until now. This soup takes ages, but tastes wonderful.

Mushroom Soup
Serves 4 as a main

300g mixed dried mushrooms
600g fresh mushrooms
1 large onion
1 clove garlic
50g butter
250ml hot water
500ml chicken or vegetable stock

Soak the dried mushrooms in hot water for about half an hour. Stir them occasionally.
Meanwhile, roughly chop the fresh mushrooms and finely slice the onion and garlic.
After the dried mushrooms have been soaking for half an hour, start cooking. Don't drain the dried mushrooms!
Sautee the onions and garlic in butter until they start to turn transluscent. Add the fresh mushrooms and stir in with the onion, garlic and butter to sautee a little. If they stick to the pan, add a tablespoon of hot stock. They should start to brown, and the liquor from the mushrooms should start to come out.
Stir in the dried mushrooms, and their juice, and cover the mixture with the stock.
Simmer for an hour - half an hour with the lid on, half an hour with the lid off.
Blend the soup. This will be time consuming, mushrooms have a slightly wierd texture when blended. The aim is to break up all of the fibres, to get a creamy but thick texture. If you think you need more liquid - add a tiny, tiny amount at a time.
Serve with buttery crusty bread, a generous swirl of cream, and a sprinking of fresh thyme or rosemary.

You could make this recipe dairy free by using olive oil instead of butter.
To make it more suitable for small children, use water instead of stock. Add a dollop of mushroom ketchup if it needs an extra kick.
Sauteed fresh wild mushrooms sprinkled on top would be stunning.
Blend in blue Stilton cheese, or crumble on top to serve.

I'm blogging this recipe for Save The Children's Recipe Challenge. Their aim is for thousands of recipes to be collated into an e-book, to be sold as a fundraiser. It's not about increasing aid, or bullying developing countries - it's about encouraging our politicians to get together to actually *do* something about a problem, rather than throwing money at it in the hope that it will go away. You can read more about it at The Pink Whisk.