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Inside the Diablo SupperClub

The devil’s in the detail… Diablo SupperClub

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Wednesday night saw us turn up to Chorlton’s inimitable North Star Deli, on Wilbraham Road, to enjoy a taste of the Diablo SupperClub. Not, as you might think at first, a meeting of gastro-occultists, but instead a chance to learn something about Casillero del Diablo wine while enjoying fabulous food.

Yes, those cunning vintners at Concha Y Toro have hit on the ideal way of giving people greater confidence pairing food with wine: bring a liquid roadshow direct to a selection of the country’s finest supper clubs. This was their first venture north of Brighton or London, so of course Mr North was more than happy to help raise a glass in support. My other half is half-Chilean, and we’re partial to a drop of South American reds at the best of times, so this was an invite I didn’t think twice about accepting. After all, what could be more fun than being educated in the dark arts of the grape, while enjoying top-notch food? They’ve got a great blog online, (incidentally this month’s guest blogger is our favourites, Niamh from Eat Like a Girl, who even mentions our take on her exceptional Spiced Beef recipe) and a bunch of user-submitted recipes, which should be good to provoke some fresh ideas in the kitchen.

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It’s incredible to think it’s been almost a year since we attended the first pop-up restaurant at North Star Deli, one of my favourite independent eateries in Manchester. Where did the last 12 months go? In the last year their Join Us 4 Supper nights have become a regular occurrence on the Manchester food scene, showcasing the best of local, seasonal food. Chef Deanna Thomas continues to set the menu and head up the kitchen for each event, whilst the deli has recently expanded to a second location, this time in the city centre. A great tip for a really good breakfast, lunch or fabulous coffee if you’re in the Piccadilly area!

January has a habit of being the grimmest, greyest month (personally I think that’s February… when you want winter to be drawing to a close and it’s tenaciously determined to stay put) and this was the first temptation to eat out since the New Year. Hospitality from the staff at North Star was as warm and welcoming as ever, and as good guests we allowed ourselves to be graciously plied with canapés and bubbly… the perfect start to any evening. First up, an intriguing savoury macaroon, which paired smoked salmon and a citrus-cream cheese inside light macaroons, dusted with poppy seeds. They looked delightful, and were soon followed by rabbit empanadas (following the South Amercian theme), which disappeared faster than a fluffy tail down a rabbit hole. Just right with a delicious dry, crisp glass of Brut Reserva Chardonnay.

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Our resident wine expert for the night, the spendidly-named Hans Joachin Wadsack (or Joe, as he answers to) won over the assorted dinner guests in no time with his extensive knowledge and enthusiasm. This laconic raconteur raptly held our attention with some background on the vineyards, terroir, and production methods of each of the wines we were due to sample that night. That, plus the wonderful smells wafting gently from the open kitchen, cranked the anticipation up to tangible levels in the room.

First course was a trio of plump, tender and perfectly seared King scallops. They sat daintily on a bed Puy lentils cooked in a creamy Chardonnay sauce, finished with tiny roasted tomatoes and (I think) a dash of basil oil. It takes a certain kind of determination to try and snare every last lentil on a plate (preferably doused in that wonderful buttery sauce) but I managed it, and looked up to find everyone else’s plates were empty too: a room full of happy diners.

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We each had a glass of Chardonnay, and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc to accompany the dish: for me the Chardonnay was more harmonious, complementing the subtle ocean flavour of the scallops and butteriness of the sauce alike. A good example of how cooking and drinking the same wine in a dish can really pay dividends. Sure, it felt slightly decadent to sit with two glasses of wine at each serving, but I kept telling myself it was purely for educational purposes!

The aroma of the main had been wafting out of the kitchen for as long as we’d been sat down: I ‘d (wrongly) guessed at beef, but was pleasantly surprised to find out that wonderfully meaty, heady aroma was venison. Mmm, venison. Proper winter fare… and it had been a couple of weeks since our venerable venison pie, so were suffering withdrawal symptoms. Joe introduced the reds which were to accompany the main –  a Shiraz, and a Carmenère – both paired to compliment the food. My predisposition was towards the Carmenère – I love its soft, spiced notes and it’s a bottle I already regularly buy – but the Shiraz was also balanced, fruity, and worked well with the dish.

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Deanna introduced this particular venison as being sourced from red deer – good to know as there’s no legal requirement to disclose what kind of deer your venison is from – and this haunch had been marinading comfortably in a delicious bath of Cabernet Sauvignon for the previous day, ready for cooking. And cooked it was, to perfection: pink flesh gave just enough under a richly caramelised dark exterior. Venison can be a bugger to cook, but this was spot-on: rested and rich without being overwhelming. Add that to an oh-so-rich red wine sauce, some savoy cabbage, and a wintery Hunter’s pie (think Shepherd’s Pie, but with an earthy celeriac mash topping and venison filling) and you have a stellar seasonal selection on a plate.

Finally, we got introduced to the dessert wine – the Casillero del Diablo Late Harvest – which is a newly introduced line in the UK (so new I couldn’t even link to it on their website). I don’t really do dessert wines, but every time I get persuaded to try a dessert wine with an appropriate sweet, I remind myself I appreciate the combination more than I think I do. This was no exception: the dessert was an Blood Orange tart, which quivered and shivered coyly on the plate. The mix of sweet and bitter riffed brilliantly with the concentrated, rich flavour of the wine, and added a welcome burst of late summer sunshine to the dark environs of south Manchester.

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Thanks to Briony and Joe from Casillero del Diablo for the wine and wisdom; Deanna, and Ben in the kitchen for the fantastic food; and smiling service from Adam, Jenny and the rest of the staff. A really great night, with plenty of sparkle, humour and gastronomic pleasures!

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I should also mention that Ben, the chef at North Star Deli, is one third of Team ‘Northern Stars’ on BBC2’s food quiz ‘A Question of Taste‘, alongside myself and SJ from Porcus.  We got on so well together that North Star Deli and North/South Food will be teaming up for next month’s ‘JoinUs4Supper’ on February 23rd. We’re hugely excited about this, and will be announcing more details very soon!

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A real split pea souper

Soup 1

I am not the shopping fiend I used to be. I can spend all day trekking up and down the West End and come home with nothing to show for it but slightly raised blood pressure and sore feet. But occasionally when I’m out I still make impulse purchases, which explains why last week, I came home from ‘just nipping out’ with a bag of pig’s trotters.

Dazzled by their cheapness and pinkness, I couldn’t quite resist even though I had no idea what to do with them. Then inspired by a conversation about soup with Mister North, I remembered this mouthwateringly porky potage in the shape of erwtensoep or Dutch split pea soup. Thick as a plank and designed to be packed with piggy goodness, the pig’s trotters would make the perfect base.

Well known for their tendency to toward the gelatinous (and good for them. The jelly in a pork pie is the best bit) I figured something as absorbent as a split pea could take the risk and it would simply thicken everything up nicely if the stock seemed a bit gloopy.

I was also swung towards this soup by the addition of celeriac. Another impulse purchase back in the summer at Homebase saw me buying ten tiny celeriac plants in a tray. I planted them out, expecting only about a third of them to take. Fast forward six months and my patio is a convention of celeriac. All ten are thriving. I have a forest of leaves and a lot of celeriac needing eaten. Adding some to the soup was a start.

I began the prep with the weirdest bit and gave the trotters a shave with a spare and unused Bic razor. Not only are they quite pink and unnervingly delicate with their little nails, pig’s trotters are quite bristly. These were Tamworths and the fuzz was decidedly auburn. Much and all as I love red hair, I don’t want it in my dinner…

Trotters attended to, I turned my attention to the veg, trimming, peeling and cubing. Nothing difficult, just a little bit of time and effort. In went a rather sad looking leek, a few carrots, the whole small celeriac, an onion or two and a good handful of celeriac leaves for depth. I basically halved the amounts in the recipe above. I layered half a cup of split peas on the bottom of my Le Cresuet, then put the trotters on top, along with a spare rib pork chop. You’d add in the pork ribs and the bacon about now if you had them.

Then pile your diced veg on top, adding the other half cup of the split peas to the top. The meat will be hidden and it’ll look like pure vegetable and pulses. I added a few leftover stock ice cubes from the freezer which I think might actually have been pheasant. You always seem to get a dead pheasant in Dutch still lifes. I figure it couldn’t go amiss. I then topped it all up with 3 cups or 750ml of cold water and brought it to the boil before turning down to a simmer and leaving well alone for about an hour. No stirring, no poking, no peeking. Just leave it and get on with life.

An hour later take the lid off and see how the water levels are. You’ll want to check the texture of the stock and loosen it up a bit if it looks too thick and wobbly. I added a splash of water and then left it for another two hours or until the peas had softened and swelled and started to break up. Don’t cook it until they are total sludge. When you leave the leftovers overnight, the peas will soak up the remaining liquid and thicken and if you overcook you’ll be left with concrete not soup. Fish the trotters out and discard (I had enough skin and gristle with the tail). Give the peas a quick chivvy with the potato masher to thicken everything. Marvel at how a bog basic pork chop has become soft strands of loveliness and get stuck in with your spoon.

I was aware that pork and pulses are a good thing. I was expecting to like the combo in this bowl of soup. I wasn’t expecting to fall completely in love with split pea soup. But one mouthful and I was smitten. Rich with sweet porky flavour, it was bursting with taste and both the stock and peas gave it a suprisingly silky texture. It was fantastic. I practically licked the bowl clean and wanted a second helping, but wow, this soup is filling. I compromised by having it for breakfast next day.

Embrace this sudden cold snap and make this soup immediately. Use any pork on the bone to make a stock or take the challenge and buy some trotters for you instead of the dog. Add bacon, use up some smoked sausage, throw in some chorizo, use the leftover stock from doing a ham, the choices are endless. Just make sure you keep it porcine and it will reward you with being easy, cheap, healthy and filling. I impulse purchased some pork ribs today so I can make it again immediately…

 

Guestrant at Electrik with Deanna Thomas*

I’ve read about Electrik Bar’s ‘Guestrant’ sessions since they started last year, but despite making mental notes to check them I’d never managed to organise it. Their most recent event, with guest chef Deanna Thomas of North Star Deli fame, tipped the balance for me. This was on Valentine’s Day, and the prospect of a night out, unencumbered by saccharine-sweet clichés, red roses and crappy piped (or worse still, dodgy live string) music provided a fine excuse for a good meal out with my partner.

For those who don’t know it, Electric Chair was one of the venerable institutions of the Manchester club scene from the 90s onwards (Mister North has fond memories of multiple occasions spent in darkened basements listening to Detroit deepness, dirty disco, Mancunian classics and rampant riddims thanks to these guys). These days the Electriks empire has perhaps mellowed and diversified with age, and they opened the unsurprisingly-named ‘Electrik’, a fine café/bar in south Manchester’s Chorlton, a couple of years ago.

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Game, ceps and mash…

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We’ve written before about our shared love of game, especially the profusion of locally-sourced goodies from my part of the world in the Pennines. As our first birthday beckoned, and we thought of something to raise a fork and a glass to, I picked up a brace of partridge from Stansfield’s in Todmorden with an eye to our celebratory seasonal feast. As luck would have it, work took me to London for the weekend so we conspired to rustle up a hearty wintery meal which would encapsulate many of the tastes and temptations of the first twelve months of our blog, from both north and south.

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