Monday, 3 August 2009

Charley Says.......

Ever remember your parents telling you never to accept sweeties from strangers? Well despite having that mantra drummed into me constantly as a kid, it seems that all that effort has gone to waste as I found myself last Friday at noon by the Monument waiting for exactly that, sweeties from a stranger. OK so perhaps Lara wasn't completely unknown to me as we have been exchanging tweets for some time now but she is the first person to contribute to WMPC who I haven't met in person. And plus Lara doesn't blog so prior to meeting her, I had no point of reference. I didn't know what kind of food she liked, I had no pretty pictures to look at and (dare I say it) I couldn't be absolutely sure that she was good cook! Remember, it was time spent drooling over fellow foodie's posts that kick started this idea in the first place so this was really a leap into the unknown, expectation wise. Of course, I was overlooking the one simple fact that this girl has started running one of those 'home' restaurants you just might have heard about, in leafy East Sheen appropriately named "Sheen Suppers". If Lara was opening her doors to indulge punters in a spot of underground cuisine, then surely she must know her stuff?

I'd got to the Monument fairly early and was musing upon this particular aspect (along with calculating how far I could run up the 311 steps before collapsing - about fifty I reckon under current conditions) when I spied Lara, who came bombing out of the tube station, talking on the phone. As Lara came towards me, I did that thing of standing stiff and waving and smiling awkwardly like you do when meeting someone for the first time. Or is that just me? So anyway when she whizzed straight past, I felt even more awkward. Don't worry, I soon regained my cool by pretending to swat an imaginary fly. But when she disappeared around one corner of the Monument, I began to panic, where was she going? That was her wasn't it? The short blond hair as sported on her Twitter avatar was unmistakable. I thought about following her but then thought against it, we could end up running circles around the base of the Monument for hours trying to find each other. No I decided to stand still and hoped to catch her should she came speeding around the other side. Luckily she did and I was able to get her attention by waving both my arms up and down like a lunatic. And so after some relief it was indeed the Lara that I waved down, we got down to exchanging handshakes, pleasantries and food goodies.

For Friday's exchange I had brought some charlotte potatoes, broad beans, runner beans, french beans, loadsabeans in fact and a spring cabbage. Lara in return had brought along some Thai Spiced Chicken, a Thai Flavoured Risotto with Peas and a Ginger Blondie with White Chocolate and Ginger Truffles. Lara explained further that the risotto idea was formed from leftover ingredients for that night's Sheen Supper, casually adding that she was "serving up Arancini with this spicy coconut monkfish fusion type dish you see". Naturally I could only nod back at her, open-mouthed and dumbstruck because a) I was mightly impressed and b) being the idiot I am, I didn't have a clue what Arancini was. And to think that I had the temerity to consider she might not be up to the WMPC challenge, she was starting up a restaurant in her own house for gawd's sake, of course she could bloody cook! You may have to be slightly mad to go ahead with such a venture but you should certainly be confident of your own ability in the kitchen and Lara definitely seemed so. Confident that is, not mad. So after shaking hands and wishing good luck, I bade her farewell and raced back to the office to google "arancini".

Fried rice balls! Why didn't she say so!

It was another evening were work was thin on the ground so I was able leave at a reasonable hour and take Lara's dinner home with me to sample with my good wife. I must admit I did find the idea of a Thai risotto quite unconventional but after heating it through and taking a few mouthfuls, I was pleasantly surprised. Combining Thai flavours such as chilli, coriander, lemongrass and lime with the indulgently oozy texture of the rice worked really well. I did wonder if she had made this with coconut milk but apparently not, just cream, mascarpone and parmesan. In any case it highlighted the fact that a good basic risotto can really be a blank canvas. The spicy chicken was very good too, well seasoned and still fairly moist, providing a delicious meaty accompaniment to the rice. And as for the Blondie, well that went down a real storm between the pair of us, rich and decadent with small flakes of fiery ginger, a real sweet tooth lover's delight. We ate it cold but I suspect it would taste even better just slightly warmed up and I'll test this theory out as Lara was gracious enough to let me have the recipe to post on here. Psst, I've put it at the bottom. The truffles by the way were little bites of naughtiness and equally delightful.

I believe Lara's next date for Sheen Suppers is 4th September, so if you fancy something slightly off the wall then you can make a booking by emailing her at: Alas, I shall be up in Newcastle on a stag-do sampling the culinary delights of kebabs and Newky Brown but will be sure to get down to south-west London for the next one.

Thanks Lara (and don't tell my mum what I've done).

Thai Spiced Chicken and Thai Flavoured Risotto with Peas

Ginger Blondie with White Chocolate and Ginger Truffles

Ginger Blondies, Ginger Cream and White Chocolate & Ginger Truffles

The Blondie recipe makes about 16-18 small Blondies, 12 large ones, less if you trim the edges off to make them neater (I personally don't like the crusty edge of any cake!). Basically, a tin 18cm x 32cm or the equivalent size in a different shaped tin.

Ginger Blondies
300g good quality white choc (chopped into very small bits)
150g unsalted butter (cubed)
1 level tbsp of grated fresh ginger - microplane grated is best (no fibres)
I vanilla pod
300g soft brown sugar
3 medium eggs (size is important in this case)
175g plain flour

In a large bowl, beat together eggs, sugar and vanilla pod scrapings.
Use a bain mairie to carefully melt together 200g of the choc and butter on a low heat. Cool for 5 minutes so you don't scramble the eggs and add to the egg/sugar mixture.
When well mixed, add the flour - don't beat the life out of it but do carefully make sure it's properly mixed.
Mix in the ginger and taste. It should be there but should not overpower the fudgy flavour of the choc. Stir in remaining chocolate bits and pour into the tray (they need to be small so they melt quickly and don't sink). Tap the tin a couple of times to get rid of big bubbles. Cook for 35 minutes in a pre-heated oven (180/gas 4 - I use the conventional rather than the fan setting). Test at 30 minutes. They are ready when an inserted skewer is cleanish - some stickiness is fine and in fact, desired.

Ginger Cream
The amounts for the cream entirely depend on how many people you wish to serve (obviously).
For a pint of double cream, add 4 tbsp of Golden Syrup and 1 level tbsp of Ground Ginger and whip to desired thickness.

250g good quality white choc (small bits)
150g good quality white choc (finely grated)
60ml of double cream
50g unsalted butter
1 tsp of ground ginger
Pinch nutmeg
Crystallised ginger for decoration

In a pan and carefully, on a low heat, melt 250g of the choc with all other ingredients (except the crystallised ginger). Cool in a covered tray in the fridge for anything from 2 to 12 hours (I often leave overnight). It's ready for the next stage when it's firm and you can scoop out a truffle shape with a spoon, melon baller etc. but it still has some stickiness. Roll the truffle shapes (you'll get 20 ish small truffles from this recipe but you can make them whatever size you want). Roll them in the grated choc, add a little strip of crystallised ginger to the top and sit on greaseproof paper in a sealed container in a nice cold fridge to set further.
Lara Newman


  1. Great Post Dan, Laura's food sounds excellent (had no idea you had an underground restaurant!) and blimey, recipes too. What more could you want?

  2. Psst Dan, its Lara, as in Tomb Raider!

    (Fancy a trip to East Sheen in the autumn?)

  3. Lara - my apologies. Totally crap with names!

    East Sheen in the Autumn - count me in dude.

  4. LOL - only just caught up with your comments! Hope you can make it to Sheen Suppers. Will promise not to walk straight past you both....