About once a month, a select (ha) group of culinarily adventurous friends and I meet up to cook and eat together. We rotate between each other’s homes and each evening has a theme. It is, in short, a supper club, or dinner party club, except that not every gathering is actually in the evening.
Our very first themed dinner was ‘Harvest Festival’ and, as you might expect, it was held in early autumn. Themes which have been particular favourites of mine have included ‘Middle Eastern Afternoon Tea’, particularly memorable because I served up muhammara according to Diana Henry‘s addictively good recipe from Crazy Water Pickled Lemons, and I read up a lot about Anglo-Indian food and heritage for our ‘Indian Summer’ themed lunch – anything which combines food and history is going to be all right by me. (In case the name seems odd, it was an homage to the Channel Four show ‘Indian Summers’, which dramatised the final years of British colonial rule in India.) In January this year I hosted a Burns Night themed evening in which anti-haggis prejudices were overcome by suspicious southerners, and even the vegetarian haggis was well-received. (I love haggis – if you love a big, spicy, crumbly meatball I urge you to try it when the weather cools down). A friend’s boyfriend gamely read Robert Burns’ ‘Address to a Haggis’ in a broad Scots dialect, a feat which was all the more impressive considering a) a Scottish amount of alcohol had been consumed and b) it was the first time he’d met us, and standing up in a room full of strangers to read a poem in Scots dialect sounds like the worst kind of trial. (Indeed, as a little girl I ran sobbing out of a room full of people at the Belgian and Luxembourg Association of Singapore‘s annual St Nicholas’ Day party when asked to read a poem in Dutch – i.e. my first language).
More recently we had a Japanese-themed lunch, although it was called ‘Cherry Blossom Festival’, and was a celebration of both the warmer weather as well as the elegant, simple yet satisfying flavours of Japanese cooking. My friend Tina served us miso soup and stickily sweet chicken yakitori in her tiny Covent Garden flat; the windows were thrown open wide to embrace the sun and warmth coming in. I brought a salmon and edamame rice salad which was inspired by one of my absolute favourite bought lunches from Itsu, a chain which specialises in light, healthy Asian takeaway meals: teriyaki salmon on a bed. In addition to salmon (obviously) and rice, this dish includes edamame beans, which you can buy in the frozen section of most supermarkets, usually labelled ‘soya beans’. I much prefer them to the more British broad bean because they do not require a second podding after cooking. The components of fish, rice and bright green beans are easy to bring together. Such is the popularity of Japanese food that the ingredients can be bought at any standard supermarket.
It’s my friend Juliet, however, who shines in preparing food which is delicate (never quite as twee as ‘dainty’) and beautifully presented. She loves Asian food and predictably stole the show with some beautiful matcha cream puffs. The matcha creme diplomat used to fill them was rich, but the addition of whipped cream made it one of those dangerous foodstuffs whose saturated fat content is belied by the absolute lightness on the tongue. The floral taste of the creme diplomat was a perfect match(a) for the delicate texture of the puffs. Juliet also had some extra matcha creme diplomat with her and I can attest that, in addition to cream puffs, it is utterly divine piped or spooned into raspberries cavities or squiggled onto frozen yoghurt.
In addition to the crisp little choux buns, there’s extra textural interest provided by a layer of craquelin, which gives the tops of the buns a pleasing giraffe-like pattern. Craquelin is effectively a pressed Francophone crumble topping – a disc of flour, butter, and brown sugar – which somehow makes the whole thing sound a lot less like you need a Cordon Bleu qualification and more like something that can be achieved at home.
Salmon, rice and edamame bowl
Recipe my own. I think it would serve 4-8 depending on appetite and what you serve it with
For the salmon
This is the only stage that needs to be done in advance
- Two salmon fillets, about 130g each (this is the approximate standard size of small salmon fillets sold in UK supermarkets, always in pairs)
- 1 TBS dark soy sauce
- 1 TBS rice wine
- 1 TBS rice vinegar (you can use white vinegar in a pinch)
- 2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger (I use my fine Microplane grater for this job)
- 2 cloves garlic, grated or mashed (I use my fine Microplane for this)
- 1 TBS furikake ( a dry Japanese seasoning typically based on sesame seeds, dried fish, sugar, salt and seaweed), or toasted sesame seeds
- The night before or the morning before cooking (or as much time as you can give it), marinate the salmon. Mix the soy sauce, rice wine, rice vinegar, ginger and garlic in a non-reactive shallow bowl (I use a glass Pyrex pie dish which works perfectly) and add the salmon fillets.
For the rice bowl
- 200g short-grain rice (or sushi rice)
- 2 tsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tsp rice vinegar or white vinegar
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 200g edamame beans
- Three to four pieces of wakame seaweed (optional. Wakame seaweed has quite a pronounced taste which can come across as fishy, so you may want to use less of leave this out entirely)
- Preheat the oven to
- Cook the rice according to the package instructions. Once cooked, let cool for a bit (10 minutes or so).
- While cooking the rice, cut up the dried pieces of wakame seaweed into bite-sized pieces and rehydrate in boiling water (just from a recently boiled kettle) for 10-15 minutes. Drain once ready.
- Mix together the soy sauce, vinegar and sesame oil and mix thoroughly into the rice.
- Cook the edamame beans in briskly boiling water until tender; it will take about 5 minutes. Drain and add to the rice, mixing thoroughly.
- Place the salmon skin-side down onto a baking tray, pour in the remaining marinade, and bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, until cooked through.
- Remove from the oven and gently ease the cooked salmon off the skin. I do this by gently sliding a metal spatula just between the salmon flesh and skin.
- Flake the fish onto a plate using a fork; don’t mash it into tiny bits but keep the pieces juicily bite-sized.
- Mix the salmon and any remaining juices to the rice and edamame, mixing well. Add the drained rehydrated seaweed and mix until evenly distributed. Top with a sprinkle of the furikake or sesame seeds.
Matcha choux pastry puffs
All of the recipes and instructions kindly provided by my friend Juliet
Matcha Crème Pâtissière
- 300ml whole milk
- 3 egg yolks
- 50g caster sugar
- 3 tbsp cornflour
- 2 tsp matcha powder
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 50 ml double cream
- 1 tbsp icing sugar
- Ideally, make the matcha crème pat the night before you intend to fill the choux buns.
- Measure the milk into a saucepan, then whisk the egg yolks with the caster sugar until they are very pale, fluffy and doubled in size. Start to heat the milk at this point until it comes to a light boil. Sift and whisk in the cornflour and matcha powder into the egg yolk mixture.
- Once the milk has had a chance to heat up, add a little at a time (I usually drizzle in about 1/3 cup) to the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Do this until all the milk has been incorporated. You are tempering the egg yolks, so that they don’t cook immediately in the hot milk and scramble.
- Wipe down the saucepan to get rid of any milk scum, then strain the custard back into the saucepan and set over a low-medium heat. Whisk constantly and keep an eye on it. The cornflour in the mixture will cause the custard to thicken fairly suddenly. At this point, remove the pan from the heat and keep whisking to avoid any lumps. The consistency should be slightly thinner than mashed potatoes, but should still look glossy (not dry). Stir through the vanilla extract as the crème pat is cooling.
- Transfer the crème pat to a bowl and cover the surface of the crème pat directly with cling film to avoid a skin from forming. Chill overnight (or for at least a few hours).
- Whisk the (cold) double cream until stiff peaks form, then sift and fold in the icing sugar to taste. Fold this into the chilled crème pat to make matcha crème diplomat.
- 85g butter, softened
- 100g light brown sugar
- 100g plain flour
- This should be made the well in advance of baking the pâte à choux. The dough will happily sit in the freezer for a month or so.
- Cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Then mix in the flour until fully incorporated.
- Roll the dough out between two sheets of parchment paper until about 2-3mm thin. Place on a baking tray and freeze for at least an hour.
- Remove the dough from the freezer, allow to thaw for a couple of minutes. Cut rounds of dough about the same size as your choux buns. Return the rounds to the freezer until you are ready to use them.
Matcha pâte à choux
- 50g butter
- 80ml milk
- 80ml water
- 60g plain flour
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp matcha powder
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- Pre-heat the oven to 220C/200C (fan). Prepare a large baking sheet by dabbing the corners with a little butter and putting down a sheet of parchment paper on top.
- Put the butter, milk and water in a saucepan and gently bring to a boil. Meanwhile, measure and sift the dry ingredients either onto a large square of parchment paper or a dry, clean bowl. You will need to have these ready for when the mixture in the pan comes to temperature.
- Once the pan has come to a boil, add the dry ingredients all at once. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together. It will look like a cross between (green) mashed potatoes and biscuit dough. Keep the pan on the heat to cook out the flour for 2-3 minutes. The dough should start to smell biscuit once it is ready.
- Transfer the dough to a bowl and leave to cool for at least 5 minutes. The dough will be cool enough when you can comfortably handle it. Again, your concern here is prematurely cooking and scrambling the eggs (eggs start to cook at around 60C).
- Add a small amount of beaten egg to the dough and beat in vigorously with your wooden spoon until fully incorporated. Repeat this process until the mixture looks glossy and falls off the spoon in a “V” shape after about 13 seconds (apparently, this is the requirement for choux pastry made at the Ritz).
- Fit a piping bag with a plain nozzle and fill the bag with the choux pastry. If you don’t have a piping bag you could always use two dessert spoons to form your choux buns. Pipe even circles onto the parchment paper, giving each round a little bit of height by swirling the choux pastry around and up. Dab any points sticking up with a damp finger. You should be able to pipe 12 rounds. Top each round with a circle of the craquelin dough.
- Bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Do not open the door at all during this time otherwise your choux buns will collapse. After 15 minutes, turn the temperature down to 160C/140C (fan) and bake for a further 10-15 minutes to dry them out. Keep a close eye on them at this stage, as the high sugar content in the craquelin has a tendency to catch. Turn off the oven and leave the buns in for a further 5-10 minutes to make sure they are dry. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
- Once the choux buns are completely cool and when you are ready to serve, fill a piping syringe with the matcha crème diplomat. Puncture the bottom of each choux bun and fill with a healthy amount of match crème diplomat. The buns should feel slightly heavier in your hand. Alternatively, you can slice the choux buns in half and fill them using a teaspoon.
- Serve immediately. If the filled choux buns are left to sit too long, they will soften from the moisture of the filling and won’t have as great a texture (although, they will still taste delicious).