Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Diva dinners at The Underground Restaurant

Judy Garland/Liza Minelli night on the 1st of October: Tickets £40 for 5 courses:
Dress code: ruby shoes, gingham pinafore, leggings à la Stepping out, bowler hats, sequins.
Attitude: gamine neediness mixed with Let's put the show on here trouper spirit!
Food: pills and booze mostly.
Music: have all their records on vinyl!

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera night on the 29th of October: Tickets £40 for 5 courses:
Dress code: monobrow, neckbrace, ethnic.
Attitude: Resourceful narcissism.
Food: Mexican.
Prize for best self-portrait.
Barbra Streisand night: November 18th (Friday night Sabbath)
Tickets: http://www.wegottickets.com/event/132662
Dress code: perms, kaftans, hello Dolly, Yentl.
Attitude: I am beautiful, no matter what you say.
Food: Jewish
Edith Piaf birthday Lunch: 18th December
Tickets: http://www.wegottickets.com/event/132665
Dress code: black dresses, thin eyebrows, tragic expression.
Attitude: street kid size zero.
Food: French
Music: accordion

Other dates to put in your dairy...
4th November: Underground Night Market http://www.wegottickets.com/event/132416 Bonfire, music, food, bar.
5th November: Underground Farmer's and Craft Market http://www.wegottickets.com/event/132417 Bonfire, music, food, bar, Dragon's Den.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Flower pot dessert

I was the kind of mum that spent weeks planning my daughter's birthday parties. For her fifth birthday I decided upon a Hawaiian theme (despite my single parent income). I hired a swimming pool, crafted pineapple decorations out of paper, made tiny rice paper 'grass skirts' to dress the sausages, sewed together sweets, marshmallows and flowers to make individual 'lei' for each child, constructed mini non-alcoholic cocktails complete with fruit and umbrella. I would always serve alcohol to the parents, I felt that they deserved it. It seems that the dark art of 'event planning' was in my blood.
Almost half the audience at Camp Bestival were under 10. It's very much a family festival. One of the nicest things said to me was by a mum who came alone with her two kids on the first night. I saw her the next morning and she was so pleased "we sat next to another family, and now we have friends for the festival. The kids get along great and I have a mum to hang out with". Job done!
I devised a flower pot dessert for the kids, adapted from the Pioneer Woman's recipe, which would also be perfect for children's parties. It's easy to make and most of the ingredients are available at Poundland!
Here's how to make it:
Take a 3 inch plastic flower pot (Homebase). You can use terracotta but plastic is safer if you have little kids. Then put a plain sponge cupcake (no topping, also available at Poundland) in the bottom. In the pictures above however, I used a small homemade meringue, the size of the bottom of the pot.
Next put in a scoop of chocolate 'muddy' icecream. I used Heston's Rosemary and Chocolate icecream but ordinary chocolate is fine.
The magic bit: grind Oreo cookies in a food processor and they look remarkably like soil. (You can also buy them from Poundland). This looks so like actual dirt that the kids were at first reluctant to eat it. 
Buy some worms from The Natural Sweet Company (yes at Poundland)

Top with lollipops, rammed into the meringue or sponge cake at the bottom. The lollipop on the left is a creepy crawly one, there are flower shaped ones or you can also use cheap lollipops (from Poundland!)
All in all this dessert will cost you about a pound per kid! And they will love it...
The Underground Restaurant will also be 'playing' at Bestival: tickets available http://www.bestival.net/#/what-else/the-underground-restaurant-book-now

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Foraging in my own garden: rosehip syrup and more

This 'summer weather' is, not to put too fine a point on it, crap. It's August, I don't need to turn the Aga off, the sky is grey as is my 'tan' and I need an umbrella to venture out of the house. But! We may grumble but le jardin anglais is famous throughout the world and much of it is thanks to our mild and damp weather. Equally,  for the same reason, British women are renowned for their dewy youthful skin. Other women may be more polished (American), have better accessories (Italian) and thinner (French) but their complexions after une certain age (about 30) leave something to be desired.
Throughout this year my garden has been a useful addition to my larder: wild strawberries for icecream, mustard flowers to decorate my Maille mustard meal, elderflowers for syrup and fritters, vine leaves to wrap salmon and halloumi, nettles for pesto on steaming freshly puffed flat breads and daylilies steamed and tempura-ed for ultra menu wow factor!
The corn on the cobs are bulging in their buttery skeins of silk and apricot-hued flowers from the runner beans will adorn my salads, their taste a lingering but subtle reminder of their fruit.
Last week I picked rosehips to make syrup, a daily spoonful to ward off colds a cherished memory from my childhood. The buds are the 'hips' of the roses, bursting pear-like and alluring beneath the fragrant flowers.
Nasturtiums, mustard flowers and daylilies

Rosehip syrup

250g of rose hips
250g of sugar
750ml of water

First top and tail the rose hips then slice in half and scoop out the seeds. Chop up the rosehips finely. Place in the water and bring to the boil then remove from the heat and leave for a couple of hours.
Then add the sugar and simmer until it becomes a thick syrup. Strain through a chinois or sieve.
Put it in a thoroughly cleansed jar and seal.
 Rosehip Syrup: spoon onto icecream, use in prosecco, mix into jam, drizzle over cereal or porridge. It's a natural vitamin C fix!
 British runner bean edible flowers....fantastic on salads, as a garnish
 I chose a special variety of courgettes that had more flowers than usual
 Elderflower cordial from June...
Franchi seeds tomatoes, stuttering in the rain
Wild strawberries, frais des bois, winking red beneath the greenery. Recipe for the icecream in my book.
Gorgeous dusty pink hydrangeas from my garden, a single bloom in a glass cheers up a table
 Or a host of them on a breakfast table

The Secret Garden Club: autumn and winter gardening lessons with food and drink by MsMarmitelover is starting again soon. Keep checking for dates. It's a great present too for the novice gardener.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Arancini: a solution for leftover risotto

Arancini recipe

Recipe for Arancini

Assemble your ingredients:
Bowl of cold leftover risotto (mine was cooked using Vialone Nano rice, white wine, blue cheese and mushroom duxelles the night before).
Bowl of 2 beaten eggs 
Bowl of bread crumbs/Panko
Bowl of cheese cubes (I used a mixture of blue cheese and cheddar. Mozzarella is also good)

Arancini recipe
 Take a small patty of rice 2 or 3 cms across
Arancini recipe
 Poke a small cube of cheese into it.
Arancini recipe
 Cover the cheese with the rice, moulding a small ball
Arancini recipe
 Dip the ball in egg
Arancini recipe
 Dip in bread crumbs
Arancini recipe
 Fry the balls in vegetable oil.
Arancini recipe
 Enjoy the hot cheesy goodness within.
Arancini recipe
I served them with chipotle tabasco and green chili sauce.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Do's and Don'ts for the supper club guest

In my book Supper Club: recipes and notes from The Underground Restaurant I outline a 12 step programme of 'how to start and run your own supper club'. But what of the guest? What rules should the supper club punter follow? Is there an etiquette? And how does it differ from the normal dinner party? Would Mrs Bourne approve?

1) Service: It's not a normal restaurant. Don't expect to have the same standard of service. If you need water and everybody is busy, feel free to get your own. If you drop your napkin, I suggest you pick it up yourself. Under no circumstances snap your fingers at the wait staff, they aren't your servants, they are probably friends or related to the host. The hostess may even have given birth to them.
Keep your cutlery between courses, French style. The less washing up, the better.

2) Drink: Bring your own booze. Most supper clubs don't have an alcohol license. This is great for you as a guest: take the opportunity to pay what you'd normally spend in a conventional restaurant on the cheapest bottle of wine on the list (£10 to £15) on a very good bottle of wine with no mark up. Soft drinks: most supper club hosts do not have a large fridge containing a selection of soft drinks complete with price list, so if you have a soft drink you particularly like, do bring it along. Supper clubs tend to offer tap water rather than mineral water, so again, bring your own if you prefer that. Some, admittedly few, supper clubs charge a corkage fee for wine to cover provision of glasses. (This may sound unfair but providing wine and water glasses for each guest and washing them up is one of the most costly and time consuming aspects of a supper club, especially when they don't earn money for drink.)
Do bring your own drink. I've had occasions where people didn't bring their own and helped themselves or expected others to share their wine with them. More often this is fine, but can sometimes lead to irritation and people hiding their bottles under the table. At the same time, do be generous, do share with your table. If it's white wine or champagne, bring it ready chilled. The host/ess probably won't have room in his/her fridge.

3) Timing: Turn up on time. There isn't an army of sous chefs to whip you up a hot dinner if you arrive late. You wouldn't turn up to a friend's dinner very late would you? Conversely: do not arrive early. It puts the host/hostess in a difficult position. That last five minutes before showtime that you interrupted was probably their only opportunity to put on mascara, spray deodorant under their shirt to hide cooking smells, reapply lipstick.

4) Cancellations: do not cancel and if you must, do it at least 48 hours beforehand. The supper club host will already have bought the ingredients for your dinner. Unlike a conventional restaurant they cannot sell the food the next day. Profit margins are low so do be thoughtful. Do turn up. Even if you have paid in advance, this is an instance where you abide by dinner party manners rather than restaurant rules. It's rude if you don't. Hosts/hostesses will often delay the meal while waiting for you. It's unfair on the other guests too, creating gaps at tables.

5) Seating: Be prepared to sit with strangers. This is one of the best things about a supper club, you get to meet other people. If you have booked a supper club for a special celebration such as a birthday, where you want to sit next to your friends, then let the host know in advance and repeat again when you enter. Put bags on chairs to reserve your places even. But be flexible, a supper club is probably held in a living room with limited tables, chairs and space.

6) Diet: Do not change your mind last minute and decide that you are a vegan, allergic to something quite basic like olive oil, or reveal that you are super allergic to nuts. Again dinners are planned, catered and prepared in advance. The host/hostess deserves notice about specialist diets.

7) Research: do read their blog/website/information given with the booking. Do not incessantly email the supper club host with lots of questions before the meal. They are unlikely to have a reservations clerk and this is time consuming and they will hate you even before they've met you. Do find out about them beforehand, especially if the supper club has been going for a while. Most supper clubs have a blog in which every aspect of setting up their supper club, preparing food, their personal life has been exhaustively chronicled. It's trying being asked the same questions every single event 'How did you start?' ect.

8) Tipping: You tip even an awful restaurant ten percent don't you? Why not a supper club? It makes all the hard work worth it. Alternatively a small gift is welcome, after all you are going to their home. Most supper club hosts are intensely interested in food and drink so if you make say, jam or liqueur then give a jar rather than a tip. One guest gave me a huge pack of vanilla beans, which was very much appreciated.

9) Entertainment: the 1920s booklet '1001 things everyone ought to know' in the Etiquette section states "If you can sing, recite, etc, it is your duty to perform should the hostess ask you. To refuse is not in the best taste". Hmm. Possibly. Do assess your own talent and entertainment ability honestly before embarking on a show. But on the other hand, even singing badly will give other guests something to talk about.

10) Conversation: the supper club is fantastic for networking, getting jobs, contacts and even romance but sadly there is always the risk that you end up sat next to a bore, which will ruin your supper club experience. It's rare that bores attend supper clubs however, people are self selecting, only the adventurous and curious tend to go. The disadvantage of a supper club as opposed to a cocktail party is that it's hard to move away from the bore. The advantage lies in that you have time to get to know other people and you are rarely in the position where, if stuck for something to say, you have to resort to the tactics advised by Dianne Darling of Effective Networking who suggests asking men "where did you get your tie?".

11) Manners: it's fine to start eating before others get their food. A supper club is often run by amateur cooks and you never know how long it will be before everyone is served! Eat up while it's hot! Things are often served family style at supper clubs and you will have to do a mental calculation of the size of your portion in comparison to the amount of guests at the table. Remember, you've all paid. If there doesn't seem to be enough or you particularly like the dish, feel free to ask the server or host if there are seconds. You can do this, it's not a restaurant. You won't be charged double. Eating family style is also great for bonding over food, sparking conversation and an education in living communally rather than the 'what's mine is mine' individualism of conventional restaurants. Tip: remember to eat before you go to a Roganic/Young Turks style pop up as all the food will be microscopic and placed on the plate with a pair of tweezers as it's invisible to the naked eye.

12) Dress: I always ask guests to dress up. There are too few occasions in modern nightlife where we get the opportunity to get out the best suit, wear that sparkly dress and heels. You can do this seriously or ironically, the choice is yours. I also have many dinners where guests can come in costume. Again this contributes to the festive and humorous atmosphere (think dementor cloaks at Harry Potter, purple/ermine/medals at the Royal Wedding Banquet, and monobrows/ethnic clothing/neckbraces at the forthcoming Frida Kahlo night). Other supper club hosts may be more casual: all those supper clubs in the East End probably require that you wear classic Shoreditch Twat attire.

13) Helping out: few supper club hosts want help before and during a dinner. Too many people in the kitchen is stressful. But most supper club hosts would love a hand at the end, taking glasses/plates/cutlery  out to the sink area for instance. Some guests have even helped me wash up. I love them. It means clearing the wreckage the day after isn't quite so hellish. It means I might even treat myself to a drink or two at the end of an evening. But again, ask, because each host has their own style.

14) Privacy: some hosts have no problem with you wandering around their home, rifling through their drawers, Come Dine With Me style. I've even had guests asking if they could try on my clothes. But do be respectful of the fact that you are in their private space. Don't make loud critical comments on their decor, children, cleanliness. Save that for the taxi home.

15) Complaints: very difficult territory here. You are that weird hybrid of 'paying' 'guest'. If you have a serious complaint, mention it to the server and or drop an email the next day. Most host/esses will be mortified and offer a refund and an apology. If you fancy yourself as a blogger or reviewer, don't be smarmy on the night and then slag the supper club off in print the next day. You are not AA Gill, you are just being rude to a private individual who is doing their best to be hospitable.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

The Underground Restaurant at Bestival on sale now !

Once dinosaurs roamed the Isle of Wight, the largest island off our island. Now every year travellers in outrageous outfits throng the island on the second week of September, making their way to the Telly Tubby landscape of Bestival. 
The season is no longer confined to Wimbledon, Henley Regatta and the Chelsea Flower Show; now the British summer has a festival every weekend. Come summer solstice, people everywhere ram full a backpack pot pourri of glittery clothes, fairy wings, rain ponchos, pop up tents, shorts, thermals and Hunter wellies and set about three months of sporadic camping, listening to music, while crossing fingers about the weather forecast. It's uniquely British that in such a difficult climate that we are absolutely determined to celebrate the combination of music, culture and the outdoors. 

One of the best festivals is Bestival which last year won the Best Major Festival award. Apart from one terrible September  (2008 'the year that shall not be named' in Bestival circles), the weather on the diamond shaped Isle of Wight (a microcosm of England)  is temperate and sunny. 
The Underground Restaurant supper club is going to be there hosting an intimate three course menu inspired by Isle of Wight producers such as thetomatostall.com, local farmer Ben Brown, fisherman Mike Curtis of Bembridge Fish and others.

Smuggler's Menu

A pot of gold: fresh corn chowder with chipotle en adobe served in pumpkins

Stargazy pie: Isle of Wight mackerel

Mushroom and goat's cheese pie (V)

Heritage tomato salad with oak smoked tomatoes

Shipwreck pavlova with creme de marrons and salted caramel.

Tickets can be bought here: http://www.ticketline.co.uk/kerstin-rodgers-at-bestival-tickets £29.70p with booking fee.

Apart from this year's Bestival theme of Divas, rock stars and pop stars, we also encourage you to dress at pirates, smugglers, sailors for our pirate restaurant. C'mon, go for it! A festival is the one opportunity where literally anything goes!

Shhh! On Saturday night 11.59pm, there is a Midnight Feast: Pyjama party! Midnight Feast at The Underground Restaurant. Wear jim jams, nighties, bring teddies, hot water bottles, dressing gowns, comfy slippers, hair rollers, your pet blanket and have a secret feast under the cover of a supper club.
 Tickets here: https://secure.ticketline.co.uk/tickets/13261503/underground-restaurant/isle-of-wight-robin-hill/2011-09-10

Don't miss out. Book early! You'll get to meet me and my dastardly crew! I'll be selling my book too....

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Results Day

This morning:
"Tomorrow you will never see me again if I get a bad result" says the teen.
I say nothing.
"I mean it".
"What kind of results are you expecting?" she queries. I tread carefully, knowing the wrong answer could spark florid accusations of 'insensitivity'.
"Erm, passes?"
Even later:
"If I fail them all will you be disappointed?"
"Of course not" I lie.
Tonight, by the Aga:
"I've got to decide what to wear tomorrow" The teen declares with an air of great import.
I laugh.
"Don't laugh, everybody is discussing it. The main thing is, not to do what Sarah did last year and come fully made up, in heels, really dressed up."
"Why does anyone get dressed up?"
"You haven't seen anybody for weeks, since the end of term." She rolls her eyes. The eye equivalent of 'Der'. The teen is a specialist at eye work. 
She continues: "Anyway five minutes later Sarah got really bad results for her GCSE's and was crying her eyes out. All her make up ran down her cheeks. I don't want to make that same mistake, look wise."
"Hmm. So you are aiming for a sober but glamorous look ideally?"
"Yes. Black jeans I think. A tailored jacket. NOT heels."She draws breath, fiddles with her hair, looks serious."Glasses perhaps?"
I join in: "Quite preppy? A bit, I've already got into university?"
"Yes" she says thoughtfully.
"Will you be upset if I don't get all As?" she asks again, after a pause.
"School doesn't matter" I say. "Everybody knows you are clever. You did my accounts last year. You learnt Excel at 16". 

Update: She got 4 A's and a B.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Outstanding in the Field

Outstanding in the Field, the stunning American travelling restaurant, created by chef and land artist Jim Denevan, is coming to Europe! Here are the dates:

September 5, 2011Shanagarry, Cork, IEBallymaloe Cookery SchoolOn Sale
September 8, 2011Monmouthshire, GBTrealy FarmOn Sale
September 11, 2011Island of Lilleo, DKHans Lund's FarmOn Sale
September 13, 2011De Bilt, NLVollenhovenOn Sale
September 17, 2011Rioja, ESRemelluri Estate VineyardOn Sale
September 20, 2011Radda in Chianti, ITLa PetraiaOn Sale

I'm attending the event at Ballymaloe where the great Darina Allen will be hosting. Outstanding in the Field hold large dinners on farms, beach, barns and unusual places. They promote farm to table dining, using local chefs and ingredients. Bring your own plate!

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The Gilbert Scott at St. Pancras

 Arabian night sky ceiling.
Hand painted walls.
Glasses of British champagne to start.
Finally London has a place to match the Musée D'Orsay in Paris! This vast renovation of St Pancras hotel is heart stoppingly dramatic: the combination of pattern, on the carpet, walls and ceiling is daring, conveying the exotic adventurism of British colonialism. The Victorian gothic architecture is matched by sweeping staircases, tall cathedral windows, arched vouted ceilings, brass door fittings and ghostly corridors. Marcus Wareing's restaurant dishes at The Gilbert Scott intelligently match the era and decor. I have seen reports of poor service, but I found the French imported front of house perfectly sufficient. I imagined them getting on a Eurostar at the end of the evening.
It's not cheap however, we spent about £75 each but there are early supper and lunch deals. Both the teen, my friend Mary and I really enjoyed our evening there. I even met my lovely friend Shelley von Strunckel tucked into a booth, but then, she is a local! We chatted about the astrology of the riots, theatre, travel and food. Her companion has a farm in Sri Lanka, he described the avocados "like footballs"...I must go there.
I would love to stay at the hotel but I read that the rooms are less baroque in decor, more corporate which is a shame.
A cured mackerel, potato salad with soup. The ingredient that made this dish sing were the pickled grapes.
I liked the idea of this English dish, a baked onion with thyme and cheese but it lacked umami. Maybe it should be simmered in Marmite, that would be very British.
Stylish waiters with braces and arm garters.
Oyster with pickled lemon slices, I stole the lemon slices off my friend's plate, they were so moreish.

Artichoke tart for mains for me. Basically a big posh vol au vent with one of my favourite vegetables. 
My architect friend Mary had sea bream (I think) with a vongole sauce, an intense liquor you wanted to mop up with bread. We also had a side of nutmeggy cauliflower cheese and chunky crisp chips. Lovely.
The teen's fish n chips. Very good. More of the super crispy battered fish would have been appreciated however. Sarson's mayonnaise a good addition. Sarson's vinegar, a traditional British ingredient, is used extensively throughout the menu, which I liked.
My Jaffa cake desert was very good and reflected the intricate patterns of the decor outside. The teen had the "delicious" chocolatey cornflakes: a warm chocolate mousse with cereal that was a clever updated twist on children's nursery food.
An elegant dining room that I would happily eat in every day.
The staircase, a jumble of structured colour and pattern.
The ghostly hallways with Minton tiled floors.
Wouldn't you like to don a bustle and suck on a cigar?
Maybe they could film an update of The Shining here? Kubrick would have approved. Every carpet is designed specially.