There are many clever ways of doing supper club reviews of the past year and many cooks are doing them. I found that I really could not encapsulate all of the highs and lows of running a supper club in one neat format, so I decided to create my own review of the most memorable moments from inside the kitchen.
Foods that went down a storm at the supper club
Scotch eggs. Scotched quail eggs to be precise. This is the most ridiculously time consuming and expensive small bite ever. But when people walk through my door for the first time I want to hand them a glass of something delicious and interesting, with a small bite to match. Scotched quail eggs say everything about my approach to food: nostalgia with a twist. I have served them with a chorizo crust and a prawn toast crust and each time they have gone down a treat. However, they take an incredible amount of time to prepare, there are a lot of casualties when peeling quail eggs and the cost of their component parts make them one of the most expensive things I serve. If I worked designing menus in a restaurant, I’d have been fired by now!
Pie, pie and more pie. It seemed that anything with pastry was extremely popular. I conquered my fear of pastry, soggy bottoms and shrinking tops. By the end of the year I was making the kings of all pies, a raised pie with hot water crust. I think pies are popular because they are homely but require a lot of effort to make so many people rarely get the chance to eat the genuine article.
Jelly! Kumquat and saffron, gin and tonic, greengage and cinnamon, Muscat and rhubarb all featured on the menu to delighted gasps. It has to be moulded though, there’s nothing like a quivering anatomical mass of gelatin to elicit screams of pleasure from the most serious of diners.
Individual trifles. Served at three meals and each time a massive success. I have my own take on the classic trifle, mine are port and blackberry rather than sherry and raspberry. The popularity of this dish reinforces my view that more than ever people want to embrace comfort, nostalgia and tradition in these challenging times that we live in.
Things that caused the most arguments with my significant other
China and cutlery. You cannot feed twelve people without having a decent supply of both, but my partner seemed to think that this was an unnecessary and indulgent expense on my part. If left to him it would have been paper napkins and plates all round. I tend to go a bit over the top, I admit. Do we really need a butter dish in the shape of a rabbit? But if you can’t indulge your love of vintage kitchenalia when you’re running a supper club, when can you? I was reading an article about trends in food and eating and it seems 2012 will be the year when restaurants leave behind the uniformity of white china and opt for mismatched vintage ware. Argument settled, I win. Now, off to e-bay to hunt out some more eternal beau champagne coupes.
New gadgets in my kitchen
I’m not really a gadget person, but I quickly realised that if I was going to be catering for twelve people on my own on a fortnightly basis I was going to need some help. My first purchase was an ice-cream maker for that all important accompaniment to jelly. It was good. My second and most expensive purchase was a Magimix food processor. It is a delight, and definitely worth investing in. It has speeded up food preparation immeasurably and also produces very good results e.g finely sliced cucumbers for a sweet relish, uniformly thin potatoes for gratin dauphinoise. However, my most recent and frankly eye-opening purchase was a rice-maker. This machine is genius and no lover of rice or for that matter no lover of feeding large groups should be without one. I have used mine to make amazing rice, but more importantly, keep the creamy mash on all of those pie nights toasty warm while I prepare the rest of the food. I use it almost every day now.
Food that caused me the most trouble
Eggs. Eggs seem to be actively engaged in a war against supper clubbing. We got on fine until I started to scale up. Eggs want to be seen as individuals, and nothing annoys them more than lumping a load of them into a bowl to make a large quantity of mayonnaise, custard, hollandaise or the like. I have been reduced to tears by the humble egg on many occasions this year and I now consider eggs my nemesis.
Aside from the on going war with eggs, I had a few individual disappointments. The decision to make a croquembouche for a Bastille day meal brought me closer to the edge of reason than any other decision I’ve ever made in my life. I kind of pulled it off in the end, but that meal was not of a standard that I am happy with.
Toffee apple fizz. Making up cocktails seems like a good idea that is easily achievable. In reality this was not an easy task, my medley of toffee vodka, apple liqueur, a range of sugar syrups and juices topped up with Prosecco tasted like Irn Bru. In fact, I think I invented what is likely to be a very popular alco-pop for 12 year olds.
The best bit of it all
Without a doubt, it has been the two-hundred or so strangers that have passed over our threshold over the past eight months. In a year of revolutions, riots and financial meltdown the coming together of twelve strangers in my home every fortnight has reminded me of the fundamental goodness of human nature. I am frequently astonished by the willingness of strangers to take a leap into the unknown and share food and conversation with an open mind. Without sounding trite, it is awe-inspiring. It doesn’t always work wonderfully. There have definitely been low-key nights where the chemistry just hasn’t been there, but there have been many more nights when the room has quaked with laughter and where friendships have been forged. On a personal level, it has made me more open and trusting, my vaguely misanthropic tendencies have been truly quashed!
And so to 2012. I see many more supper club events and I see more collaborations with talented home cooks and other interesting people. And I see burgers in my future! I have started a new venture called Burgher Burger (www.burgherburger.co.uk). This year will be all about food and fun and I very much look forward to sharing it with you.
For more information
Aoife Behan’s Blog: www.myhomesupperclub.co.uk
Follow Aoife on Twitter @myhomesupper and @burgherburger