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Getting ready for our Indian banquet!

It's just over 4 days till our second supper club - our first was an Italian feast in May and was a great success (we believe - the 3 guests certainly seemed to enjoy it: they're coming back).

We have 6 bookings this time, including 2 ladies who we don't know, which is really exciting, as they must have tracked us down on the website - thanks Ms Marmite - and found us on facebook, where we advertise. We also have two old friends who are new to the experience, and two from our previous dinner in May. 

I've set myself quite a task with our supper clubs, in that we are doing taster courses, which means very small portions, but loads of courses. Our Indian baquet has 10, which includes the 2 desserts my wife is doing. She always handles the sweet stuff, while I slave over a hot stove.

In order to be more organized, I've typed out a schedule of things to do on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, so I don't panic too much. I can then stick it on the kitchen cupboard and cross it off as I do it.

With curries, a decent base sauce can be used for some of the dishes, about 3 in this case, so I can make that ahead. Most of the dishes are quite straight forward, although I'm trying new stuff out too, which I have practiced before hand. I'm happy with the deconstructed Chicken with Tikka mousse and masala dressing, but my newest creation, the 'Spectrum of Heat' concerns me a little, as I'm aiming to make a small line of chicken curry on a slate, which at one end is a korma, and gradually gets hotter as you work along it to the phal end. I made it the other night and added too many chillies, including a nice fresh scotch bonnet, and it ruined it. It was way too hot, so I'll have to think of another way of creating an increasing line of heat. I'll have a parallel line of chilli jam, and maybe one of yoghurt raita, but I will stress on the menu that the objective is to work along the line to a point you are happy with. You don't have to finish it!

I could maybe add increasing levels of chilli powder along a korma base, as I originally had 2 curries: a hot one at one end and the korma at the other, and tried to blend them progressively. I think it's a great idea, and I'll let you know when I perfect it.

I'm going to do a tarka dahl too, but there are hundreds of versions, and I've had many differing types. The best way I have found is to stew the lentils in onion and stock slowly for about an hour, then make up the tarka mix, fry it off quickly and add it just before serving. You want a nice caramelized onion garlic sizzle as you take it to the table.  

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Comment by Nick West on July 31, 2012 at 17:10

Next supper club is going to be on Saturday 1st September. The food will be Spanish Tapas. Think I'll make up some authentic Sangria too!

Comment by Nick West on July 29, 2012 at 20:24

The day after the Indian Banquet supper club, and we are flushed with the success of the evening. We knew it was going to be good because we knew that the people coming were up for it and really looking forward to it. When one invites unrelated (ie people who don't know each other) people to a supper club, and place them around a table together, it is a natural reaction to be tense about group dynamics. This usually goes two ways: someone takes an immediate dislike to another guest, and the atmosphere is tense, or everyone gets along just fine. No worries here. All our guests got along famously, and our icebreaking fears were quickly dissapated by the sounds of laughter coming from the dining room!

To say we took on a big job is an understatement. Ten courses meant that I was constantly cooking, washing plates, serving, mingling and generally ensuring everything went to to letter. Liz was an outstanding host, and we both agreed to lay off the booze till 9pm, which was when we were nearly into the desserts!

The complexity of some of the dishes combined with my perfectionist nature meant that I was occasionally stressing and getting quite irate if my sauce bottles did not dispense evenly, or splatted onto the plate (I need to either revise the nozzle design or not have ingredients liable to block the nozzle in the first place). There were a couple of things we forgot to put out, such as napkins (which was rectified by Liz as soon as it was pointed out), and this has prompted us to have a general list to remind us. I always do a menu list with detailed instructions, such as portion size and guest details, but we need to remember the basics, if we are to exist as a serious rival to the restaurant experience.

All the dishes went to plan, although there were some small technical issues which have been learnt from, such as the 'Spectrum of Heat' which needs practice, but I believe can evolve into an awesome dish. And the deconstructed Chicken Tikka Masala. My aim is to offer the classics, but in a new way. Not a new concept, I know, but we are starting with a blank canvas and reinventing the wheel. I want our guests to leave knowing that they have had a wonderful meal, but that they have also tried something that they would not have had anywhere else.

My other concern was that I was offering the correct portion sizes. When serving ten courses, its crucial that one doesn't over feed, so each dish needs to be minimal. I pretty much played it by ear, but was aware when purchasing, for example, when buying the lamb, I got four boneless leg steaks and had them cut in half. I worked with the idea that three or four mouthfulls a course would be about right.

There were a couple of things that require attention, and we got that from immediate verbal feedback, and it was really useful.

We are aiming for the next supper club to be on the 1st September, and we are still considering what to cook. We are planning a German night, but that will be a few months off, as Rich is going to 'ferment' some Saurkraut. Other ones I want to do are Thai, Yorkshire, American, Spanish tapas, Victorian, Chinese, French, and many others. Please give feedback on themes, or if there is a type of food you would like to eat.

Finally, we are also intending to advertise an event, which will be held at an alternative location, such as a beach, hillside, derelict house, someone elses house, a school, a boat, middle of the M62 - whatever. Let us know your thoughts on this too!

See you soon.



Comment by Nick West on July 25, 2012 at 23:03

I bought a few more things for the supper club today:I was after a small plastic sqeezy bottle to dispense sauces and dressings, so that they can be decanted artistically onto the serving platter. I found a pack of 6 for 2.99 from Booker. Bargain! I hovered over the butchers section, then thought twice. Nothing there has probably ever seen the light of day, been treated with respect, or fed with a non chemically enhanced cocktail of growth boosters. I failed to find the descriptions: 'free range', 'organic', 'freedom food', 'soil assosiation', or even 'produced in the UK'! Remember, these cash and carry places are frequented by the restaurants and small traders you and I probably purchase from or eat at!

Which brings me nicely to my next point: Traceability. I have always prided myself on caring about the environment, and where my food comes from. If you are reading this, no doubt you do too. I made a habit a few years back of asking waiters or waitresses where the ingredients come from. Yes, naieve I know, expecting a minimum wage teenager to know or care about the source of the food they were serving me. It's hard to make the right choices when buying food, particularly if it's from a supermarket, or if you are eating out. To be fair, in the supermarket, at least it's fairly transparent (apart from the price they pay the producer, in comparison to the profits the supermarket makes, and the true price of a discount deal) because all the labels or packaging usually have to state where the product comes from. Why does it matter? Two reasons mainly: Food miles and investing in your local or regional economy, rather than sending your money across the earth to a company in New Zealand. Then again, is spending any money at the supermarket really investing anything in the local economy. Sure, they employ local workers, but at the basic rate of pay and usually on temporary and part time contracts. The cumalative effect on a working population is a general de-skilling of the work force. Big supermarkets love to sound out to the media that they are bringing jobs to the area. What they don't say is that the jobs come at a cost of reducing employment in other areas. Namely local independent retailers.

I have seen many older gentlelmen stood behind the meat counter, wearing a butchers apron, filling the chiller display cabinet with pre packed meat. Before the supermarket, they had their own local butchers shop. 

The message is, support your local butcher, grocer, fismongers, hardware store (Barnitts of York), newsagent. Otherwise we will lose them.

I shall be purchasing my lamb chops and chicken breasts from the Shambles butchers. He can tell me where the produce is from, and when it was delivered. This is not just for piece of mind, but it means I know a little bit more about the meat. Have you ever asked for a Barnsly chop in a supermarket?

The veg will be from SB Organics, Wiggington York. Steve, who delivers it to us every Friday morning, gets the produce from Paradise Farm, Howsham, which is 5 miles out of York, along the A64.  Its all organic better value, and certainly a better quality. Its also cheaper than the supermarkets organic and non organic vegetables. I know, I've done price comparisons!


Comment by Nick West on July 24, 2012 at 20:53

I'm thought of a neat solution to the 'Spectrum of Heat' dilema: I make up 3 pastes that can be squeezed from 4 bottles: Yoghurt raita - for the cooling, Chilli jam for the sweet hot, Korma 'base', and liquidized chillies. The chicken pieces can be char grilled seperatedly and served at the mild end of the dish. The chilli sauce is squeezed down the middle, start thick at one end, to taper away to nothing at the other. Squeeze a thick line of korma over it, then two wavy lines of the yoghurt and chilli jam, one either side. The chicken pieces can be dragged through the 3 sauces and you can have as much or as little as you wish. It should also look pretty cool too!

Comment by Nick West on July 24, 2012 at 20:19

Went to 'Freshways' on Hull Road York to top up our spices. They sell big packs of anything you need, and it's way cheaper than buying a little jar from the supermarket. They're really helpful and friendly too. Rafis spice box on Goodramgate is the other great Indian ingredients shop in York. They're ace there too, plus they make up an amazing range of spice mixes, which are fail safe.

Before we had these places in York, we used to go through to Bradford for our Indian stuff, and stop off in Leeds for the Chinese/other Asian ingredients. The smells in these places is really evocative, and you know that you're getting the real deal, and usually at a far cheaper price than the 'big 4'. However, these trips were always an ace day out, because we'd usually be tempted to eat at one of the local curry houses too. I also loved visiting one particular Asian supermarket - I forget it's name now - mainly for the other goods such as kitchen equipment and particularly the acres of brightly coloured rolls of beautifully patterned fabrics. These were presided over by the many wonderful colourfully dressed women doing their weekly shop. This particular store had a cafe attached to it, and we used to have a quick curry as a snack before we left for home.

I never saw Bradford as a run down ghetto, as some people have said to me over the years. It's just so full of culture, life, colours, flavours. You don't get that in many of our bland chain store high streets any more. Shopping centres and supermarkets have seen to that. 

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