Monday, 31 October 2011

Video: How to cook on salt bricks

Yes I'm cooking on horse licks!

How to cook on salt bricks

You need to heat the salt blocks up slowly to around 250°C/500°F before using them for the first time. Using my three oven Aga, I heated them on each shelf for 15 minutes, working my way up in temperature from the bottom shelf of the simmering oven to the top shelf of the roasting oven. This took about an hour in total. You can also heat the salt blocks up on a gas hob, again starting slowly and gradually increasing the heat to 250c/500F. You know if they are at the right temperature when you put your hand a couple of inches away and it feels uncomfortably hot.
I lugged back four Himalayan salt bricks from New York once. These bricks, especially selected by Mark Bitterman, so that they didn't crack or explode in the heat, were fine. I also bought two much cheaper blocks from a horse suppliers 'salt licks' Bitless Bridle, however these weren't the same quality and cracked a bit in the oven but were still fine to cook on.
In the tests that I have done, it seems that drier foods worked better on the salt blocks, the wetter the food, the saltier it became. You want a slight seasoning. If the food is rather wet, like scallops, you want to cook it quickly, so a high temperature is desirable.

To clean and reuse the salt blocks: wait until they have cooled down then give them a good scrub.

NB: I would now oil, using a cooking spray, the heated salt bricks so that the fish doesn't stick!

Difficulty: Easy
Preparation time: 20 mins
Cooking time: 15 mins
Serves: 2 people


2 Salmon fillets, cut thinly into 4 pieces
6 Raw prawns, heads removed and peeled
1 Fennel bulb, sliced thinly
4 Spring onions
1 Red pepper, cut into thin slices
8 Baby corns
0.5 Lemon, to squeeze
1 tbsp Flat leaf parsley, to garnish


Heat up two Himalyan salt blocks, raising the temperature every 15 minutes or so until they reach around 250°/500°F this can be done in an Aga or alernatively you can heat them gradually on a gas hob.
Prepare the ingredients that you would like to cook on the salt blocks. In this instance; peel the raw prawns, thinly slice some fillets of raw salmon and wash, peel and slice the raw vegetables.
Once the salt blocks have reached the required temperature use thick oven gloves to move them to the place where you want to cook and rest them on strong, heat-proof stands. I find people like to participate in cooking their food so, at my supper club, I bring the salt blocks and prepared ingredients to the table and let people cook their own.
Place small quantities of your raw ingredients on each of the salt blocks. Cook for a few minutes on each side to your taste. The salt blocks naturally season the food so there is no need to add additional seasoning.
Remove the salmon, prawns and vegetables from the salt blocks onto plates and finish with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of flat leaf parsley.
The salt blocks will stay hot for about 30-40 minutes so, depending on how hungry you are, you can carry on cooking your prepared ingredients as required.

More recipes from Kerstin Rodgers

Watch the video on YouTube

Kerstin's book - Supper Club (Harper Collins)

Buy Himalayan Salt Blocks

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Diva Dinners: Frida Kahlo Night & Tamale recipe

msmarmitelover as Frida Kahlo at her supperclub

One of Frida's paintings 
fruit painting msmarmitelover's Frida Kahlo supperclub

red peppers, red shoes,  msmarmitelover's Frida Kahlo supperclub
It took all day to peel 66 peppers. I tried to get hold of poblanos but impossible.
tomatillos  msmarmitelover's Frida Kahlo supperclub
Zia Mays and I grew these tomatillos as part of the Secret Garden Club (go to this link for gardening lessons and tea at The Underground Restaurant)
tamales from scratch,  msmarmitelover's Frida Kahlo supperclub
Making tamales from scratch
tamales from scratch,  msmarmitelover's Frida Kahlo supperclub

tamales,  msmarmitelover's Frida Kahlo supperclub
Home made hibiscus syrup with South African Fizz
Steamed Tamales stuffed with masa and vegetables with home grown tomatillo salsa
Chile en nogada with new season fresh walnuts and goat's cheese
Seared Tuna steak with Brokeback Beans and Guacamole
flan,  msmarmitelover's Frida Kahlo supperclub
Flan or creme caramel
Fridas,  msmarmitelover's Frida Kahlo supperclub
My graphic designer Maria Grist, me and my mum
 msmarmitelover's Frida Kahlo supperclub

 msmarmitelover's Frida Kahlo supperclub
Guests brought self-portraits
 msmarmitelover's Frida Kahlo supperclub

How to make tamales:

Makes 35-40

From a Mexican specialist site such as buy:
1 packet of Corn husks (contains about 40)
4 cups of Maseca or Masa Harina maize flour
1 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of vegetable shortening such as Crisco 
500ml of vegetable stock

I used cheese and pumpkin but you can experiment.

1 butternut squash, diced
Mole, a Oaxacan paste that I brought back from Mexico, a few scoops
Olive oil, to toss the vegetables in
1 tablespoon of Mexican oregano
Salt to season
1 pack feta cheese or queso fresco, diced
Fresh coriander.

Soak the husks overnight.
After seasoning your diced vegetables on a baking tray, roast them until tender in a hot oven for 30-40 minutes. Add the cheese.
Mix the masa, the salt and the shortening together. You can also use fresh corn oil but experts say shortening (or lard if you eat meat) makes the masa fluffier and lighter.
Gradually mix in the hot vegetable stock until you have a light flexible dough.
On the smoother side of the corn husk, spread some of the masa. 
Then add some of the filling inside. 
Fold and tie your tamal.
There are two techniques: 
1) You fold over the husk lengthways then tuck over the pointy end and secure with a thin section of husk. (Keep one or two of your soaked husks for tying). You then steam them pointy side down, open section up.
2) Fold over both ends with two ties like a package.

Steam in a bamboo or metal steamer for 1 1/2 hours.

Serve with salsa, such as the tomatillo salsa in my book.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Avocado Week: recipes

Tonight I'm hosting a dinner for an ominous sounding outfit called the Avocado Brotherhood. Every year they have a secret summit in which they worship the Hass Avocado from Chile.

Here are a few pictures from today's prep:

Hass Sour Cocktail Recipe

Serves 3 or just 1 (I find you need 3 cocktails for it to touch the sides properly)
75ml pisco
25ml sugar syrup
25ml fresh lime juice
1/4 avocado, blended
Ice cubes, a handful
1 egg white
Put all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until frothy. Put in the egg white and blend till even more frothy. Serve in a glass rimmed with salt.

Avocado Fabergé egg. Covered in pistachios, pink peppercorns, black sesame seeds and cornflowers, filled with mango salsa and Japanese sesame dressing.
Served on a bed of salt strewn with petals

South American Cheese and Potato Soup Recipe

I serve the cheese and potato in a larger bowl and the avocado soup 'crema de Aguacate' in a shot glass or smaller bowl. You can use the avocado soup as a garnish or as a chaser.

50g of unsalted butter

1 medium onion, chopped

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/4 teaspoon achiote seeds (a Mexican spice)

550ml of cold water

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 kilo of boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices

300ml of sour cream or full fat creme fraiche

2 cobs of fresh sweet corn, shorn.

150g of feta cheese

Slices of avocado to garnish with

A handful of fresh coriander leaves

Potato/cheese soup method

In a large saucepan, heat butter over medium heat.
 Add the onion, paprika and achiote seeds and sauté until the onion is softened, about 4 to 5 minutes.
 Add the water, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil.
 Add the potatoes. Lower heat and simmer, covered, until potatoes are tender, for about 25 minutes.
Stir in the creme fraiche or sour cream and the sweetcorn and cook until the corn is tender. 
Stir in the feta cheese and leave until 'poached'. 
Halve, peel and pit the avocados. Slice crosswise. Place avocado pieces in soup bowls, garnish with fresh coriander and serve.

Avocado Chocolate Butterfly Cakes.
 The room awaiting the 'brotherhood'
Here they are, including TV chef Sophie Michell (left)

The Menu:

Hass sour
Avocado and Padron pepper tempura with ponzu and wasabi

Cheese and potato soup in pumpkins with crema de aguacate chaser

Seared beech smoked tuna with brokeback beans and guacamole
Fabergé egg avocados with mango salsa

Avocado creme brulée (not liked by many)
Avocado chocolate butterfly cakes
Avocado and raspberry cloud cake (a big hit)
Avocado and lime sorbet ( also a big hit)
Avocado chocolate truffles

A bathroom installation: Avocado Suite. I should be in the Tate Modern me.

Growing avocados

I've been trying to sprout several avocado stones...

After five weeks only two had roots...

Monday, 24 October 2011

Scottish supper clubs: Edinburgh

"It seems like a city built on precipices, a perilous city. Great roads rush down hill like rivers in spate. Great buildings rush up like rockets." GK Chesterton, 1905

"In Scottish English phrases such as good food are pronounced with vowels of equal length." British Library, accents and dialects of the UK.

"I took my aunt for a meal in Stirling. It was a restaurant that specialised in Scottish ingredients, lots of game. We all ordered, grouse, rabbit, hare, deer. The waiter came to my aunt, pencil poised, she looked up and asked "Have you got anything else on the menu other than all this vermin?"' Supper club guest
"Do you know about 'writer's block'? It's the area in Morningside where all the writers live... JK Rowling, Alexander McCall Smith, Ian Rankin. Let me tell you a story - JK Rowling went into the local supermarket. She bought a chicken. When she arrived at the till, the cashier, an older lady, said'Chickens are two for the price of one!'. JK murmured that it was fine, one was enough. The cashier's voice rose in pitch and volume 'Twooo for one, hen!'. JK desisted, saying that one was really enough. 'Gooo get one! If you don't want the free chicken, give it to someone else!'. In the end the richest woman in the UK, after The Queen, accepted her free chicken." Supper club guest
"Edinburgh is 'tight'. It's hard to get to know anybody from here. They go to school together, to university together, then they join the same law firms. That's why supper clubs are great, we can meet people" Supper club guest
"They used to say, If you see a table and chairs in the street in Edinburgh, it's an eviction. Things have changed. Now we can drink on Sundays. The Church no longer rules." Supper club guest 
"There aren't any Scottish people in Edinburgh. I'm a scouser, and I've worked with whisky for 20 years. I ask people their surnames here, it's things like 'White' and 'Brown'. They aren't Scottish. The real Scotsmen have orange beards and are running around in the heather in the highlands up north." Supper club guest
"Becoming a capital has given us confidence." Supper club host
“I‘ve never been to Edinburgh before – I didn’t realise it was so beautiful. I love that whole mountain in the middle of the city thing.” Dido 
Edinburgh transport

I've been to Edinburgh several times before: for the millenium Hogmanay, which was a disappointing ticket-only event, where every restaurant shut at 6pm and we starved; to photograph musician Paul Haig for a record company; to protest in 2005 at the Anti-Poverty march, staying and running a bario kitchen at the anti-G8 camp in Stirling. Each time I felt shut out of the city, I met no one from here, I learnt nothing. 
I was invited by Aoife Behan who runs My Home supper club. I'd noticed her stylish photography and writing on blog posts on Find a supper club, become a fan. Her typical Edinburgh flat and her great taste in home ware, much of it 'utility china', are beautiful. 
I am right about supper clubs. You meet the locals. I've learnt more in one weekend by attending three supper clubs than on all the other visits. 

Here is Aoife's menu from Saturday night:

Hibiscus Fizz
Dhokla and Green Coconut Chutney
Pani Puri
Ms Marmite Lover’s Twitter curry
Kahdi Okra and Potato
Jewelled Basmati Rice
Chickpea Raita
Kissing Chutney
Chai Pannacotta with Mango Sorbet & Pistachio 

It was very interesting to eat my own recipes from my book, some of which Aoife had fact it was a relief as it showed that they worked!
Meena and Aoife Behan, Edinburgh supper club hostesses
Meena (right) of Chai Lounge supper club, just starting in Edinburgh. Meena helped Aoife to prepare the meal.
Eternal beau glass
Hibiscus Fizz in 'Eternal Beau' glass. My mum had the whole set from the 1980s, I'm sure it's going to be a modern classic. Going to start looking for the glasses myself. Aoife is a bit of an Ebay queen, and a supper club is great excuse.
dhokla , edinburgh supper club
Loved the little yellow Dhokla.... Aoife gave me the recipe:

Dhokla Recipe , steamed savoury semolina cake

250ml coarse semolina
250ml plain yoghurt
20ml oil
1ml bicard
5ml crushed green chillies
5ml crushed ginger 
5ml salt
1ml tumeric
5ml enos(effervescent fruit salt)

10ml oil
5ml mustard seeds
5ml sesame seeds
finely chopped corriander (optional)
desicated coconut (optional)

Mix all ingredients together besides Enos and leave for min. Boil water in steamer. Add Enos to mix and mix throughly. Steam for 20min on medium heat. Make topping by heating oil in a pan, add mustard seeds and sesame seeds. pour over dhokla and finely chop the corriander and sprinkle on top together with coconut.

jewelled rice, edinburgh supper club
Kahdi was poured over the jewelled rice, a sweet and sour warm yoghurt sauce that I've not had before. 
aoife behan's book shelf

Utility ware, edinburgh supper club
Pastel Utility China from 1930s until the present. A favourite at cafes and seaside b n b's.
Chai pannacotta and mango sorbet, edinburgh supper club
Chai pannacotta and mango sorbet garnished with Pistachios. Delicious!
edinburgh supper club
 My home Supper club, an elegant room.
edinburgh supper club
 Morning sunlight in Aoife's gorgeous Edinburgh flat. We spent most of the weekend drinking tea and chatting. My favourite occupation!
Scottish supper club hostess Karen (Honey Wild)
On Friday night I visited Karen also known as Honey Wild. She has a supper club in Innerleithan on the Scottish Borders. She cooks everything from scratch and seats up to 30 people. Her son and neighbours help her. 
Supper clubs in Edinburgh are very concerned by Health and Safety. It seems that the local council are not promoting small businesses but making life rather difficult. The major concern was getting a separate hand washing sink. Although Karen already has two sinks she has to get a third and resorted to drilling a whole in her countertop for another. Ridiculous. In times of recession, Environmental health Officers need to get a perspective and not hamper start up businesses. Every supper club I've visited has much better hygiene than most restaurants.
Classic Edinburgh architecture: it's a stone city of a multitude of greys flecked with yellow and amber
Callum Evans edinburgh supper club
 On Sunday we visited Crescent Dining for Sunday lunch. Callum the chef is the son of food stylist Lesley Evans and food photographer Laurie Evans. He has good genes!
edinburgh supper club
Son on the left, dad on the right.
edinburgh supper club
 Lesley on the right is a Miss Jean Brodie style hostess, looking after her 'creme de la creme' guests.
edinburgh supper club
My smoked salmon mousse with cucumber pickle and home made crispbreads.
squash, edinburgh supper club
A colourful and seasonal stuffed squash was the vegetarian main.
rachel whiteread piece: edinburgh supper club
Lesley had some nice art: on the right is a limited edition piece by Rachel Whiteread.
scottish pounds, edinburgh supper club
I paid in Scottish pounds. Still, once a guest paid me in Brixton pounds.
pudding, edinburgh supper club

Callum's Steamed stem ginger pudding recipe:

For the syrup:
 2 chunks of stem ginger cut into thin slivers
5 tablespoons stem ginger syrup from the jar
4 tablespoons golden syrup

For the pudding: 
150g golden caster sugar
150g unsalted butter
3 eggs 
200g self raising flour 
75ml milk (whole or semi skimmed)
3 chunks stem ginger, chopped finely
1 teaspoon ground ginger

  • Generously butter a 1.5 litre pudding basin.
  • Place the slivers of stem ginger into the basin.
  • Mix together the stem ginger syrup with the golden syrup. Pour over the stem ginger slivers in the pudding basin.
  • In your steamer, ensure that you have enough boiling water to come halfway up the basin. However, I used a steamer basket, so my sponge didn’t sit in the water. Both ways work just as well.
  • Now make the pudding: cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. - Beat in the eggs one at a time, alternating with the flour.
  • Pour in the milk and beat until smooth.
  • Stir in the chopped stem ginger and the ground ginger.
  • Spoon into the pudding basin. The basin will not be full as the pudding needs room to rise.
  • Cover the top of the basin with a centrally pleated piece of baking paper, and another of foil.
  • Secure with string and steam for approximately 1 ½ hours. A little more won’t cause any harm.
  • Remove the foil and paper and run a knife around the edge of the pudding before turning out.
  • Turn the pudding out onto a lipped plate, in order to ensure that you don’t lose any of the syrup.
  • Serve straight away with hot custard.
edinburgh farmer's market
On Saturday morning I visited the farmer's market with warm and friendly Edinburgh supper club hostess Wendy, @insideoutchef. It's such a hive of enthusiastic food talent, reminds me of the second phase of supper clubs in London. Here this girl is making Scotch pancakes as tasting beds for her jams.
edinburgh gin
Edinburgh Gin
lace collars
I bought Peter Pan style lace collars, so cheap between £2 and £4 at Herman Brown.
Edinburgh Old town
Old Town charm.
Whisky samples at the whisky shop, edinburgh
Samples of whisky which ideally should drunk with water sold at The Whisky Shop. Buying whisky is a great investment.

Caledonian sleeper from Edinburgh
I took the Caledonian sleeper home. I love sleepers. It felt like I was on the Hogwarts Express returning to muggle land. JK Rowling wrote  Harry Potter at a cafe in Edinburgh while she was a poor single mother on benefits.
Euston station
Dawn: I thought it was going to Kings X, but went to Euston instead. I was a bit confused. 
Night train at Euston

Aoife's blog post on the weekend.
Honey Wild's blog post on her supper club.
Crescent Supper Club's post.