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!


Anonymous said...

I keep hearing about your homemade chai marshmallows ! I LOVE Chai :D

Richard Elliot said...

Sounds like a great night Angie! I'd have loved to try the rice pudding and poached pear.

Just a shame it is a bit far for me to get to the next one....

Sara - Belly Rumbles said...

Looks like it was an amazing night. Wishing you the best for the one coming up.

Amy zhong said...

so sad i missed out on this one! i spy some familiar faces!

Kelly Siew said...

What a comforting menu! Must have been really stressful though catering for such a large group.