Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The DESSERTed Dinner Party - Winter Warmers

      You may have seen the photos posted up from a dessert pop up degustation that Ryan and I held for our friends in July. Well, I know it's been four months since but I've only just now gotten around to blogging about it. This was actually a second event that we hosted due to popular demand from our friends who missed out on the first DESSERTed Dinner Party that we held back in April with an Autumn theme. It was a big gamble holding our second one in July. I wanted to keep the momentum going but as it was an outdoor event (Ryan's parents backyard is the most perfect place for hosting parties) we knew we were battling with the cold weather. We decided to go ahead anyway and hired out an outdoor patio heater and pushed the time to a 4:00pm start to finish the night a bit early so our guests weren't left out in the cold for too long.

      Invitations were emailed out and posted on our facebook pages and before we knew it, our friends had booked us out just four days after invitations went out. There was so much pressure on us to get everything right the second time due to the great outcome and response that we received the first time. We did make many mistakes though, I think we all were a bit complacent because we thought we had everything in the bag. It was like two steps forward and one step back. About an hour before our guests were due to arrive, we were still snowed under with prep and our restaurant had not even been set up yet - we were frantically running around, it really felt like we were competing on an episode of My Kitchen Rules. We're not professionals though and there was much to be learned from our second party so we will be much more diligent with the next one.
Of course the day before the event is filled with lots of action in the kitchen.

      I reused most of the decorations that I had bought, it all formed a bit of a standard backdrop for our dessert party. I decided to also utilize all my cookbooks as part of the decorations too.

      To keep with the theme of Winter, and to tap into the ingredients we were using, I used spices and oranges to decorate the tables. We put out water bottles but forgot to provide cups for our guests!

      We set up a tea and coffee station for our waitresses to have easy access rather than constantly having to go into the house to the kitchen. I also set up a portable gas burner to keep a pot of hot chocolate hot.

      Our 'Winter Warmer' menu. As before, we were serving up three courses of desserts with some savoury 'palate cleansers' in between. This time we thought we would match up our desserts with the T2 blend of 'Monk Pear' tea.

      What's more perfect than cupping your hands around a hot drink on a cold day? As our amuse bouche, we served our guests some Chilli Hot Chocolate 'Espresso' as they arrived. A rich dark hot chocolate spiked with chilli and a hint of coffee. Check out the cute little paper coffee cups I found.

And we're ready for action!

First course: Home Made S'mores - DIY toasted home made chai marshmallows on
honey chocolate dipped wheat biscuits.
      Ryan and I have never had s'mores. According to wiki: A s'more (sometimes spelled smore) is a traditional nighttime campfire treat popular in the United States and Canada, consisting of a roasted marshmallow and a layer of chocolate sandwiched between two pieces of graham cracker. I only recently told him about the concept and we went out and bought a block of chocolate, a packet of wheat biscuits and some marshmallows. Even though what we had was not the authentic version which uses graham crackers (never had a graham cracker in my life), we thought the concept was quite fun. And the drawcard was the fact that we could let our guests toast the marshmallows themselves and let them get a bit interactive. We had big dreams of lighting up a bit of a bonfire in the backyard but it would have been a logistical nightmare so we went with tea light candles instead.
       Of course I had to make my own marshmallows and biscuits. I made a chai spiced marshmallow and decided that I would dip my discuits in chocolate so that the chocolate would melt easily on impact with the hot marshmallows. I wanted to include some honey somewhere as I love the combination of honey and chai but forgot to put it in the biscuit mix. Plan b was to spread a thin layer on the biscuits before dipping them but then we forgot to do that too. As a last resort we put out mini honey pots on the tables and asked our guests to drizzle some honey over the biscuits - not sure how this worked out or if anyone remembered to it.
       Our 'camp fire' which was a tea light candle in a holder didn't quite work out as well as we had hoped. When Ryan and I were experimenting, the candle worked fine but as I was mindful of wax dripping all over my table cloths I decided to put them into some small holders - Ryan said that he observed some people having difficulty toasting their marshmallows as the holder was a bit deep so the marshmallows potentially slid off the skewer as it melted. Overall though I think everyone enjoyed some interactive fun to start off with.

Palate cleanser: Beef Chilli Con Carne with mini Chilli and Coriander Cornbread Muffins.
      I absolutely loved the chilli con carne that Ryan had previously made so asked if he could make it again as one of the savoury courses. We were tossing up between two choices and I can't quite remember what the other one was but we thought this would be great for a cold winter's night. Last time I also made mini cornbread muffins to go with Ryan's chilli so tweaked the recipe a little this time as they were a bit on the dry side last time. Having to pre make them and warming them up again meant that they were also slightly on the dry side this time but we were hoping that the chilli would give them a bit of moisture when eaten together.
      We were going to kicik off the first savoury course with our French onion soup but Ryan wanted to swap the savoury items around as he thought oue guests would want something a bit more substantial in their stomachs after having the 'smores. I think we may have been a bit too generous with the serving size for our 'palate cleanser' as this impacted how the rest of the courses were received.

Second course: Warm Orange and Cinnamon Rice Pudding.
      Last winter Ryan made this dessert as part of a Spanish Fiesta that we had with our girls Jess and Celine (the other half of the DESSERTed Dinner Party dream team). It was a very big hit with them and I suggested that Ryan make it again. Last time it was a little on the gluggy side so he thought he would cook it as close to serving time as possible and use a bit more milk than the recipe stated. Even letting it sit there for the shortest amount of time before serving meant that by the time it reached the table it was quite thick and dense as all the liquid had been absorbed into the rice.
      We also went a bit (ok maybe ALOT) overboard again with serving size here and since our guests were still recovering from the chilli, we found that not many people were able to eat any of the rice pudding resulting in a lot of waste. It also may have been that not many people were fond of the flavouring? Ryan may have gone a bit overboard with the orange zest and cinnamon which may not have been to everone's liking. We absolutely loved it though and were sad that there were no leftovers - perhaps if we had halved the servings we would have been fine! We felt a bit discouraged that so much food was being returned to the kitchen, we were worried we were doing something wrong!

Palate cleanser: French Onion Soup 'Tea' with mini Gruyere Brioche Toasties.
      Winter to me screams hot soup. I'm not sure which one of us came up with the idea of French onion soup but I thought we could make it a little bit more sophisticated and had a grand idea of turning it into a refined consomme and having the girls serve it out of tea pots. I decided the tea pot idea was a bit much (and we needed our pots for tea) so strained it and then served it as a hot soup shot in little chinese tea cups. I decided that instead of a regular cheese toastie made from a baguette which would then be placed on top of the soup I would make actual little loaves of brioche and make some miniature toasted cheese sandwiches to go with the soup. The presentation alone was a big hit as everyone absolutely adored how cute the cheese toasties were. Of course it tasted great too ;)

Third course: Warm Five Spice Chocolate Cake with Poached Pear.
      This dessert was inspired by Phillipa Sibley's Poire Belle-Hélène which is her version of the dessert made by Auguste Escoffier made from pears poached in sugar syrup and served with vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, and crystallized violets. The original cake is a 'biscuit' with a molten honey chocolate centre which I tweaked and made a chocolate fondant instead. The poached pair is filled with a vanilla ice cream. Both these elements were to be a surprise for our guests hence why we just wrote warm chocolate cake and poached pair on the menu. I also liked the idea of the contrasting hot and cold temperatures and also the textures.
      In my trial run the fondants came out beautifully. I tripled or even quadrupled the recipe and thought that they would need a little extra time in the oven since the oven was running at max capacity. I was a little sidetracked outside with our guests that buy the time I raced back to the kitchen and pulled them out they had overcooked and were just warm cakes. That could also have been due to us letting them sit there for a little bit to cool and to give our guests a little resting time before their final course. I was so disappointed with myself for over cooking them and not being able to surprise our guests. Though they were delicious little warm chocolate cakes. Another mistake I made with these was that I forgot to mix in the five spice powder. Thinking creatively I mixed some five spice with cocoa and sprinkled this over the cakes. I was so disappointed though
      Most people enjoyed the element of surprise when they cut open their pear, though a few of them were slightly under cooked. Next time I need to remember to check each one as each one is a slightly different size which would require adjusted cooking times.

      And now for some action photos from the night. We gave one of our cameras to a friend and told him to get snap happy.

Look, someone taking a photo of his food with his phone *thumbs up* ;)

      That's just a tiger print snuggie on him. We requested our guests to come dressed for comfort and warmth.

Instagram photos from babymooksy.

Instagram photos from babymooksy.

The DESSERTed Dinner Party Dream Team.
      We could not have done it without our girls. Thank you so so much for agreeing to be part of the crazyness. Thank you again to Ryan for being the catalyst to my crazy ideas. And thank you so so much to the unofficial helpers too. There were many mistakes made and we should not have relied so much on our girls to get everything done without our guidance.We had spreadsheets galore in the kitchen but assumed that the girls would know exactly what to do for the dining area as everything seemed to have gone so smoothly last time. I guess that is what happens when you are under the pump with an hour to have everything ready. I will have to remember to make checklists for the table settings next time. We also need to seriously up our A game, we got way to complacent and let ourselves ride on the high from the success of our last event. Standards slipped which means I am putting pressure on myself to make the next dessert party an ever better one. I am a perfectionist after all. But the most important thing is that we have fun doing what we love and that we're able to share this love with our friends. We're just a bunch of home cooks who have a passion for good food.
      Lastly, thank you so much to all of our friends for wanting to be a part of it all - without you there would be no DESSERTed Dinner Party. We look forward to spoiling you all again at the next one!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Est. (Restaurant), Revolver Cafe, and my never ending birthday eats.

      A very belated blog post as my birthday was in June and my last blog post was in July... where have the last 4 months gone? They definitely went way too quickly and I have definitely been way too busy to blog. If you're stalking me on social media you would have seen all the crazy things I have been up to.
      So it was my twenty ninth birthday in June. To be honest, I was pretty scared that I was one year closer to thirty and wasn't really keen on celebrating that fact, but after a few weeks of unintentionally celebrating my birthday with my close friends and family, being twenty nine didn't seem so bad after all! I am usually the one spoiling my friends and family so it was nice to to be on the receiving end for a little bit, just because it was my birthday. My birthday celebrations actually semi started the week and a bit before my actual birthday, so as with every other year it turned into a bit of a never ending birthday feast.
      I won't go into too much detail, this will mostly be just a photo log of all the delicious eats I had over the couple of weeks on unintentionally celebrating my twenty ninth birthday.

     For a long time now, Ryan and I have given up on gift giving for our birthdays in exchange for a nice dinner out. We usually try to keep the location a surprise but I being the curious cat (or control freak) that I am, I always try to find out where Ryan is taking me. This year I had been just too busy to even really give it much thought. Even right until the moment he said 'corner George and Bridge Streets' while I was trying to navigate parking, I had absolutely no clue, and then it hit me.
      Est. has been on my radar as a place to dine due to it's 3 hat status. It is part of the Merivale group, and is located on the first floor of the Establishment Hotel, above the Establishment bar. High ceiling, large columns, white walls, I was wowed as soon as we stepped out of the elevator. It's like we'd just left the hustle and bustle of the city street below and walked into an oasis. Est. was an absolute dining experience, everything was impeccable, the decor, the service, the food. Though, it is a little intimidating when there are two waiters who come out at the same time to place your dish on the table and describe what's on the plate for each course. It was also a little distracting when you hear the other waiter describing the other dish to the other person. I actually like listening to the descriptions of what the other person is eating too.

    Ryan and I decided that we would go with the 4 course chef's menu as we liked the variety and descriptions of the dishes more and we usually prefer to choose from an a la carte menu rather than being stuck with a fixed menu that we can not alter if there are any dishes that we don't like.
  My first course: chicken consommé, confit chicken wing, enoki, malted barley,
foie gras tortellini.

Ryan's first course: sashimi of ocean trout, dashi, tapioca, ocean trout roe,
puffed quinoa, white soy, lime.

Ryan's second course: grilled scallops, white rabbit rillettes, parsnip, orange, pickled carrots.

My second course: quail breast, pine mushrooms, globe artichoke, chestnuts,
bitter greens, pan juices.

Ryan's third course: saddle of venison, black pudding, chestnuts,
celeriac, apple, semolina gnocchi.
      Venison is a bit of a treat for Ryan and he always tries to order it if he sees it on the menu. Not many restaurants serve it as it is quite a tough meat to get perfect. And Est. has it perfected, so perfect that when Ryan's glass of red wine never made it to the table with his main meal, he was so happy with his food that he didn't even think to check up on his wine with the sommelier.

My third course: lamb rib eye, trompette mushrooms, broad beans, goats curd beignets.

Side dish:  mash potato, with shaved fresh truffle.
      This was a small bowl of big indulgence.The truffle was a supplement to the menu where you could decide to have it with whichever course you wanted, Ryan suggested we have it with the mash. It was smooth and creamy but can't say it was the best mash I've had, though I loved every single piece of truffle that was in that bowl. 

Ryan's fourth course: valrhona chocolate delice, wild rice praline,
caramelized pear, toasted rice ice cream

My fourth course: earl grey ice cream, mandarin, citrus curd donuts, ruby grapefruit sorbet.
      As soon as I saw there were donuts on the Est. menu I knew I had to get them. Ryan actually thought I would have gone for the chocolate delice or even the souffle but the kid in me wanted donuts, fancy donuts!

Birthday surprise:  sorrel – yoghurt sorbet.
      So while I was in the ladies room, Ryan was having a conversation with our waiter and mentioned that it was my birthday dinner. After our desserts came out, our waiter came out with a single complementary scoop of sorbet with a candle.

Herbal tea plant infusion: Lemon Verbena
      We were going to pass on tea and coffee after dessert as we were so very full but our sommelier insisted that we try some of their fresh herbal tea infusions. We gave in and very glad that we did because it was quite an experience drinking the lemon verbena tea. I loved it so much I wanted to go home and buy myself a lemon verbena plant. We received these together with the petite fours complementary to make up for the sommelier forgetting Ryan's wine, now that is service.

Petite Fours (included with tea and coffee).
      We were absolutely stuffed but could not resist the petit fours. They were fantastic and I am glad we didn't pass on them.

      Our second Fancy Shmancy Dinner Party for the year had to be moved around a couple of times and we settled with having it the weekend of my birthday. I was also originally assigned the dessert course but Ryan decided that he would do it as well as his entree because it was my birthday weekend. I offer to 'help' him and end up doing most of the work for the souffle which really annoyed him as it was suppose to be his dessert. Oops.

      Just because it was my birthday I was not really expecting a big fuss and was just happy with a nice dinner with everyone. After dessert there was a surprise birthday cake and I was also showered with unexpected gifts from everyone.

      Birthday Champagne! I had a bottle of champagne at home waiting to be opened so decided that this dinner was special enough to crack it open.

      The Fancy Schmancy Diners. It was only a small group of us this time around as many people could not make it even after moving dates around to accomodate.

      I decided to take the Monday off work for my actual birthday and spent the day with Ryan. We started off the day with brunch at the Revolver Cafe in Annandale. This place has been on my wishlist for a while and I'd heard many great things about it. The food was good, I loved the interior, and the food came out extremely fast. Usually it's the other way around where you sometimes wait forever to eat.

Ryan's cappuccino.

My OJ.

Ryan's breakfast - Smoked trout, corn fritter, avocado, capsicum relish.

My breakfast - Organic bacon, scrambled eggs, confit leeks, and capsicum relish
 on sourdough toast.

      Fake log fire place. For a chilly morning it was nice to be seated next to the 'roaring' fireplace. We were very reluctant to leave once we finished our brunch.

      After brunch we decided to check out the new premises of The Red Spoon Co. We were there just simply to look, though I had many ideas for future events where I'll need to make a return trip for.

      We decided to drive around exploring the inner city suburbs of Anandale, Lilyfield and Rozelle and eventually wind up at The Essential Ingredient in Rozelle. I needed to top up on some powdered egg whites and did a spot of shopping while I was at it.

      Feeling a bit famished, we drove down to Balmain for a bit of an afternoon pick me up. I decided to have a sticky beak at Zest Patisserie which is almost half way between Rozelle and Balmain, as I had always driven past it on the way to the main part of Balmain.

'Birthday cakes' - Dark chocolate profiterole, fruit tart, and lemon tart.

After afternoon tea we walked up the road to Rozelle shops and bought a nice crusty baguette from Victoire to have with some pate that I picked up from Essential Ingredient.

      As we were heading along the city west link towards Ryan's place, I suggested that we make a bit of a detour through Haberfield. I wanted to explore the area a bit as we've always been there for dinner which means the shops are shut or it's always been a quick pit stop at Papas Pasticceria for cheesecake.

      My actual birthday dinner was a simple but delicious one, shared with the one person who I care about most. The best baguette we've had in Sydney (from Victoire), some toasted walnuts, some triple milk brie, duck liver pate with currant and port jelly, and some sliced pear.

      I actually passed on Papas cheesecake and bought some ricotta cannoli and a chocolate bombalini instead. The cheesecake and cannoli are always a favourite but I decided to try something new this time. We weren't too keen on the chocolate bomb, expecting something like soft fluffy donut filled with warm lava like chocolate but it was a very dense filling of chocolate flavoured pastry cream which we didn't really enjoy, a bit too rich and heavy for our liking.

      I thought I was able to keep my birthday quite at work but the other EA's/PA's were waiting to have coffee and cake with me as soon as I was back at work. And then there was also a surprise birthday cake organised from one of the teams for me because I'm always organising their birthday cakes. And then I had lunch with fellow blogger Ayano who gave me some Creasion macarons for my birthday. 

      I had bought a voucher for a truffle degustation at Blanchuru in Elizabeth Bay and happened to book it in the weekend after my birthday. It was like my birthday celebrations were continuing on. Thank goodness it all stopped after this though.

     So the weekend before my actual birthday weekend, our family hosted a big BBQ. It was really for my parents 30th anniversary but since we had a few birthdays in and around June in the family, we tagged them on to the celebrations too. There was enough food to feed the army and the navy. I took the Friday off work to help mum go shopping and prepare all the food. The photos above are only a small portion of what was served up to our friends and family. Mum never skimps on good food, combining both a food loving mother and daughter and you have the most epic feast ever.

      Of course there had to be desserts at this BBQ. On top of all the food prep, I also managed to make a small lime and coconut cake with coconut cream buttercream for my parents, some matching cupcakes, salted caramel popcorn macarons and also some vanilla bean profiteroles. I was crazy but I think good desserts are just as important as good food.

      I pulled out some really old karaoke cd's I had which were good entertainment value. No one wanted to sing at first but after some 'encouragement' of the alcoholic and non alcoholic kind we ended up having a cracker of a time.

      The day after a big BBQ is generally always dedicated to eating leftovers and the massive job of cleaning up and putting things away. One of my friends couldn't make it to the BBQ at the last minute so came for lunch and surprised me with a very delicious cake. In return I fed him some BBQ leftovers :D

      It's the big three-oh next year! And I am terrified! I do look forward to what the next year brings though, it's already been a crazy few months. Lots of exciting and great times ahead. I just know it :).