Every supper club we host is enjoyable, I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t, but Saturday evening was particularly lovely. I’m not sure if my joy de vivre was down to the return of the sunshine bringing with it the expectant promise of approaching spring, or the cooking some of my favourite foods (boeuf bourguignon, chocolate mousse…mmmm) but the evening was definitely very upbeat and I was much more relaxed than of late. It was a remarkably stress free evening, apart from the need to calm two giddy teenagers, the preparation was in hand and Sean even got the chance to relax with a beer and watch the rugby! Unfortunately our celebration of all things French remained with the food seeing as they did not do so well in their game.
Friday was a most productive day with all the food orders being collected in good time, even though the day began with a visit from the environmental health department. I knew that sooner or later this would happen but still I was filled with equal amounts of confidence and trepidation as I awaited their arrival. I was relieved to find the woman who visited most helpful and supportive. She was very happy with what she saw and I passed with flying colours. The issue of licensing was raised and it remains a rather grey area. Initially I was under the impression that it was fine to give an alcoholic drink as a ‘gift’ to start the meal but I have since heard from another supper club host that giving ANY alcohol is illegal if money changes hands. I queried this with the woman who said she would ask licensing and get back to me. So for now at least cocktails are off the menu!
We started our French supper once our guests arrived with a mixed olive tapenade made with Petros Olives (grown on the family estate in Cyprus and then imported and sold locally) on toasted Pain de Seigle sur Levain by Bethesda Bakers makers of naturally leavened sourdough breads, followed by a Soupe au Pistou (a classic French peasant soup) using as much seasonal vegetables as I could find, cannellini beans and which was then flavoured with a kind of French pesto (the pistou bit).
For main course I made my favourite boeuf bourguignon: a flavoursome reminder of French camping holidays in the Vendee with our then very young kids. We spent hot days at the beach, touring small towns with bustling markets brimming with saucisson, cheeses and olives, having the occasional night out to eat local seafood. Mostly we cooked in our tent, or bought in the boeuf bourguignon from a local cafe which sold large tubs to take away. The kids ate theirs with frite (and sometimes we did too!).
Boeuf Bourguignon (serves up to 6)…This is my tried and tested recipe which is almost as good as the dish I remember…but sorry there is no picture, my photography skills rubbish as usual…the problem is I need a dedicated supper club photographer, I just don’t have the time and everyone else forgets unless I remember to remind them!!!
100g fatty dry cure bacon cut into dice
2 large onions finely chopped,
1.2kg piece of beef (you can use shin, topside, chuck or whatever cut the butcher recommends) cut into chunks,
a bouquet garni made with a couple of bay leaves a large sprig of thyme and some parsley stalks tied together with string
a good glug of olive oil
a bottle of burgundy
200ml good beef stock,
1 and half tablespoons plain flour,
couple of crushed garlic cloves,
200g button mushrooms
12 baby onions, shallots or pickling onions.
Chopped parsley to finish.
Marinade the beef, onions and bacon in the wine with the bouquet garni over night. The next day, remove the meat and onions and strain the wine putting to one side.
Heat the oil in a pan or casserole and fry the onions, bacon and meat in batches until browned. Stir in the flour and cook for a minute or so, then add enough wine to deglaze the pan. When it turns slightly sticky pour in the rest of the saved marinade and the beef stock ( I made my own the day before with some bones from the butcher and chopped vegetables and herbs). Add salt and pepper and throw the bouquet garni back in. Bring to the boil and turn it into an oven proof casserole dish. Cook in a low oven (gas 3, 160 degrees C) for a couple of hours. After an hour add the button mushrooms and onions.
I served this with the perfect seasonal accompaniment part-boiled and then olive oil roasted pink fir apple potatoes and local purple sprouting broccoli. The knobbly uneven appearance of the potatoes closely resembles the Jerusalem artichoke, although the taste is very much spud, set off by that hint of extra virgin olive oil.
For dessert I made a chocolate mousse trio courtesy of my Green and Blacks cookbook (a Christmas present from my good friend, but terrible waitress Molly). The deliciously rich, smooth flavour of the white chocolate and cardamom, dark chocolate and coffee and bitter chocolate and blackcurrant complemented each other perfectly and since they were served in small pretty cups and shot glasses the quantity of chocolate was not too overwhelming. A simple Rosemary flavoured shortbread finished the picture.
I used 250g organic Rachel’s dairy butter, 125g Billingtons golden caster sugar, 300g self-raising flour and couple of tablespoons chopped rosemary.
Cream the butter and sugar, then mix in the flour and rosemary. Knead on a lightly floured board until a stiff dough forms. Ideally leave in the fridge for half an hour to rest. Roll out to about and eighth of an inch and cut shapes. Put on a greased baking tray and bake in a medium over for about 6 to 8 minutes or until golden brown.
I don’t think I threw one bit of food away; I’ve never seen such clean and empty plates! One guest asked for a spoon so she didn’t leave any of the gravy behind and several people accepted the seconds I offered. Even the cheese board served with the coffee at the end of the meal was fairly depleted (I chose my favourite Camembert from Rhyd y Delyn, soft creamygoats cheese balls with garlic and herbs and a hard mild goats cheese from Y Cwt Caws). We ran out of biscuits (which I think the kids must have nicked) and did several rounds with the coffee pot.As is a quirk of North Wales (and probably other close knot areas) several of our guests that arrived with different groups knew each other which meant the evening was all the livelier with flowing conversation between the tables. Perfect!