Monday, December 22, 2014

The DESSERTed Dinner Party - Christmas in July (in August)

      I know my blog has suffered neglect for so long now but a late blog post is better than never. This isn't a Christmas entry, but the theme is still Christmas as it's the Christmas in July edition of The DESSERTed Dinner Party dessert degustation/reverse dinner party that Ryan and I hosted in August (yes, August). We wanted to squeeze in at least one dessert degustation for 2014 despite renovations going on at my place and were keen to do the Christmas in July theme but the only time we could do it was the second week of August.
      We also usually give ourselves and our guests plenty of notice but this time with just a month to prep and manage rsvps, we weren't sure how fast or slow the uptake would be. We were worried about another mass influx of people wanting to come so were going to allocate seats raffle style but it seemed that with only a month's notice we were struggling to fill seats but all was good as we managed to get another good turnout of 20 of our friends in the end.

      Our Christmas in July menu, though it leans more towards Thanksgiving. Just realised I miss typed the hash tag but luckily most guests used the right one on the day except one stray photo from Jeroxie - sorry Penny! If you're on instagram and want to have a peek at the behind the scenes photos and photos of previous events search for the hash tag #desserteddinnerparty

      Transforming the back patio of Ryan's parents' place into our instant restaurant. I wanted to inject a bit of Christmas in the decorations but didn't want to go too overboard.

      We were also missing half the dream team with this event as Jessica was overseas and Celine attended with her mum as a guest instead. We managed to recruit our mate Phil and his girlfriend to stand in to help us but he had go solo in the end as his gf fell ill on the day but Celine couldn't help herself and still helped us out anyway - thanks guys!

      I packed everything but the kitchen sink over to Ryan's place. As we were still in the middle of renovations at home I couldn't do any prep at home.

Our run sheets for the week and the day of.

Mulled Wine.
       As our guests arrived they were warmed up with some mulled wine.We held this dessert degustation earlier in the afternoon due to it being winter. Though it was a bit of an odd time as it was a very late lunch/afternoon tea time. Some people were running late coming from other appointments and some had to leave on full stomachs only to have to eat all over again soon after. Hopefully next time we can have it at a more decent time and it will be indoors so we don't have to worry about our guests being left in the cold.

      First Course: Christmassy Bread and Butter Pudding with Brandy Custard.
      Ryan and I absolutely love bread and butter budding and we make a pretty mean one. This was a combined effort and we decided to put a Christmas spin on it and spiked the pudding (made with baguettes) with mixed spices and nutmeg and made a brandy creme anglais to go with it. Something so simple was surprisingly a big hit with everyone. Instead of individual serves Ryan thought it might be a nice way to start off with a shared dish so I found these cute little pots on sale. I was worried that the serving was too large but most of the pots came back empty. We almost forgot about serving spoons and bowls for everyone but that's why we have helpers on hand.

Second Course: Sweet Potato Fries with Maple Cinnamon Mayo.
      I accidentally switched the order of the savouries on the run sheet so we served up the fries as the second course or first savoury 'palate cleanser' to break up the sweetness in between courses. I love love love sweet potato fries. This dish is actually inspired by the baked sweet potato side from Outback Steakhouse where it's served with a dollop of whipped honey butter which I absolutely love. I did a bit of googling for some ideas for a sauce/dip for the fries and came up with the whacky combination of mayo, maple syrup and cinnamon. Ryan thought I was absolutely crazy until he tasted it. We knew we had a winner and everyone loved it too.

      I know I'm the dessert queen in the relationship but to keep it fare and balanced I assigned one dessert to Ryan. I loved the pumpkin pie he made for our Christmas lunch with friends a few years ago so requested that he make it again. He decided to put a modern twist on it.

Production line.

Third Course: 'Pumpkin Pie' - Pumpkin puree, macadamia crumble, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin chips, hidden pop rocks and eggnog ice cream.
      I loved Ryan's deconstructed pumpkin pie. Most people loved it, apart from a few whom thought it didn't work for them. Ryan took this feedback to heart but you can't please everyone! I think overall Ryan did a fantastic job. I loved all the different textures and flavours but you still got the essence of a pumpkin pie in every bite.

Fourth Course: Roast Turkey Sliders with Cranberry Coleslaw on home made Brioche Buns.
      Second savoury 'palate cleanser'. Even though the Americans have Turkey for Thanksgiving, I think we here in the land down under tend to eat it for Christmas. I thought some roast turkey sliders would be a cute idea as another savoury course. I made my own brioche buns however they were a bit on the dense side this time, baking in winter can get tricky and my dough didn't rise was much as I wanted it too. We also forgot to check on the seasoning of the turkey and Ryan went a bit overboard adding the onions into the coleslaw. Good idea but we could have improved a little bit on the execution of the elements.

      For the last dessert I wanted to do something special, something that would make everyone go 'wow'. Something that would push me out of my comfort zone, with multiple components, textures and flavours. I actually did a similar dessert a while ago which I called my 'rose garden' and one of my friends who tried it said that it should be on the menu for our next dessert party. I decided to give it a Christmas spin and I was really keen on making an edible Christmas Bauble so it was an amalgamation of that dessert and some ideas that I found while doing some research online and looking at different pastry chefs for inspiration.

      The other menu items we had were quite straight forward to prepare and considering Ryan was on his own for one dessert, this allowed me to get a bit technical. I attempted to temper chocolate for the first time, and picking the trickiest chocolate to temper - white chocolate. I also wanted to try my hand (or to be more specific get Ryan to try it) molecular gastronomy and wanted to make some spheres but we didn't have enough time to experiment so I had to resort to plan b which was the jelly. Ryan did help me a little on my dish though, mainly making my edible snow for me and also helping to cut my marshmallows up.

Fifth Course: 'Christmas Bauble' - White chocolate shell, strawberry mousse, rosewater meringues, vanilla marshmallows, pistachio praline, strawberries, cucumber jelly, coconut lime snow.

      My masterpiece - an edible Christmas Bauble. I was going to seal the two half spheres together but Ryan said that it was better to leave them unsealed so that the top half can be lifted off like a lid. Of course there were plenty of things I could do better, some of my tempered shells were uneven so some had a lovely crack whereas others were a bit thick due to the chocolate not tempering properly. The snow we could have done better too as there were some clumpy and gummy bits. But overall I was very very proud of my creation. I thought I was overly ambitious (and so did Ryan) but to be able to pull it off is so rewarding.
      All the flavours worked so well, and the cucumber jelly was a revelation. I wanted something refreshing to break up the sweetness and thought little exploding spheres would be nice but the jelly worked just as well. I even had someone reference this as the strawberry watermelon cake (from Black Star Pastry) and when I sat down later and ate some leftovers I could taste the resemblance.

      Not wanting guests to go home empty handed, I packaged up all the rest of the marshmallows into little gift bags.
      I also need to make a special mention to fellow food blogger and friend Thanh of the blog I Eat Therefore I Am who came all the way from Melbourne just to attend our dessert party. It started off as a joke over email but somehow on the Friday before the event we found ourselves picking him up from Sydney Airport. We hosted him for the weekend and ate a lot as food bloggers do. Here are some shots below from him.

      Thanks Thanh for the photos and thank you to all our wonderful friends and guests for coming along. Without you guys coming to support us we wouldn't be able to continue to do what we love. My parents place is just going through the final stages of renovations and will be the new location for future DESSERTed Dinner Parties. We look forward to doing it all again in 2015 and hope to see some new faces come along too. Life is short, eat dessert first.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Anna Polyviou's Dessert Degustations and Sweet Street at the Shangri La Hotel (Sydney), all my dessert dreams come true.

      This blog post is to let you all in on a secret. You see, for a while now I have been indulging my sweet tooth. Well, I suppose it's not such a big secret if you've been stalking me on Instagram or Facebook but you've probably been wondering how I have gotten myself into such wicked situations.
      I first stumbled across pastry chef Anna Polyviou when she went down to Melbourne and collaborated with her friends Bernie & Yen of LuxBite in South Yarra to do a dessert degustation ('Damn those Melbournians!' I was thinking at the time). I had been a long time (secret) follower and lover of LuxBite (way before their Masterchef fame) but this was the first I had actually heard of Anna, thanks to the power of the internet and social media.
      Anna was appointed as the head pastry chef at the Shangri La Hotel Sydney in May 2013 and launched the first dessert degustation around June. My social media network was obviously missing a few links because I was completely unaware about this until afterwards when I saw some photos pop up on instagram. I won't repeat anything here but if you want to find out more about Anna Polyviou, just google her name and you will find a stack of articles and sites on her awesome achievements to date. She has quite a rep in the pastry world.
      Fast forward a month or two and I saw that Luxbite were coming to Sydney to colloborate with Anna again at the Shangri La for another dessert degustation. Heck yes! was my instant reaction. I texted my BFF (best foodie friend)and before I could blink we were booked in for the dessert degustation.

      The day finally came around and we found ourselves in the lobby lounge of the Shangri La. We were served some sushi and a glass (or two) of champagne while we waited and then we were escorted down the service lifts to where the pastry kitchen was located. I was giddy like a school girl, it was all pretty exciting to get exclusive access to the pastry kitchen and to see the 'celebrity chefs'. I was also mega excited that my dinner was going to be made up of 5 to 6 courses of desserts!
      There were two benches in the middle of the kitchen and it was an intimate group of 20 people divided amongst the two benches. Anna welcomes the group and introduces Bernie and Yen, there's also a bit of product/sponsor plugging for Kitchen Aid and Heleila Vanilla of course. Let the eating begin!
      'Asian Dessert Degustation Part II' - continuing with the theme of the previous degustation that Anna did with Luxbite in Melbourne. Please excuse my faint memory... apart from everything was amazing I struggle to remember all the elements of the dishes going back so far... shame on me for not keeping a log but I really wasn't sure that I was going to blog out these events... I really did want to keep the secret all to myself.

First course: 'Anna goes Asian Malaysian'.
      Flavour elements include lychee, raspberry, chocolate and black sesame. I loved the bursting pearls of Lychee.

It was pretty cool watching the team plate up our desserts.

Waiitng for the second part of the dessert to come out of the oven.

Second course: 'Banoffee Hot vs Cold.
      This dish was by Bernie. Banana Souffle and a Chocolate and Banana Opera Cake. Essentially two desserts in one.

Third course: 'Passion...ate about Yellow'.
      This dessert was by Anna and was a bit of a refreshing palate cleanser. Passionfruit was the game.

Fourth course: 'Tooth paste'.
      Something fun and interactive. I can't remember the flavour, it may have been lime, a scoop of sorbet some some mint sherbet and a tube of mint gel 'toothpaste'. I didn't quite get this dessert but it was just a bit of fun.

Fifth course: 'Drunken Sake Baba'
Bernie's take on a rum baba. With a potent extra shot of sake.

Sixth course: 'Everyone thinks they're a Masterchef'.
      We all received a lemon tart and a whole heap of garnishes to plate up our dessert. This was a bit of a fun competition for us all to unleash our inner Masterchef and there were prizes up for grabs.

      My abismal attempt at plating up dessert. I've noticed over time that I have a thing about symmetry.

'Take Luxbit Home'.
      Something to take home, a couple of macarons - pandan and a bamboo and a little jar of (Heilala) Vanilla Caramel Spread. Too awesome. Luxbite were also selling portions of their Masterchef famous lollybag cake in the Lobby Lounge, of course my friend and I had already bought a couple of the cakes - unknowing that we were going to get one to take home as part of the degustation.

      Fast forward to 2014, Ryan and I were at the Shangri La again for the 'Chinese High Tea' during Chinese New Year with our friends the Pascuals and I was telling Jessica about the honey themed dessert degustation promotion for Valentines that I received an email about. I didn't need to convince her anymore and booked us in for the second session.

      We arrived at the lobby lounge and this time we were served some small canapes while we waited. As before, we were then escorted down the service lifts to the pastry kitchen.

      'Dip Me in Honey' was the theme and it was promoting the Shangri La's own 'rooftop' honey. And I think the Honey part was to attract the lovers for Valentines but it was actually weeks after anyway and there was no 'love' theme associated with the desserts.
First course: 'Breakky'
      Vanilla pannacotta, strawberry gel, can't remember what the dome was, and some house made granola on the side that included honey in it. I really liked this one.
Second course: 'Fun Time, Gay Time'.
      A take on the all time favourite Gaytime ice cream. Vanilla ice cream dipped in milk chocolate and covered in shards of chocolate biscuit and honeycomb.

Say 'AHHHH'.

Third course: 'Cleanse Me'.
      This was a take on the Quay snow egg... as a palate cleanser! Made by Anna's talented apprentice, Phil Khoury. Flavours were pineappple and mint I believe... or some refreshing herbal combination.

Cute as a button miniature pita breads!
      Anna and the girls, Jessica and Felicity frying up some home made haloumi courtesy of Anna's mum in Melbourne.
Fourth course: 'Mum's taking over'.
      Anna wanted to share her mum's awesome home made haloumi. This was a savoury sweet dish which was a nice break from all the sugar. Fried haloumi and a grilled fig drizzled in honey and served with a little pita bread and a wedge of lemon. That haloumi is AMAZEBALLS!

Fifth course: 'Steven's Nuts about Honey'.
      An homage to the rooftop honey and the beekeeper. I can't remember all the elements but it was tasty :)
'Take Home for breakfast'.
      I was pretty happy that we received a 'goody bag' to take home again this time. We received a small banana bread, a jar of the roof top honey and a pack of granola. I was a nice girlfriend and shared my breakfast with Ryan, added a small tub of yogurt on the side.

      With the next event Anna let her team unleash their creativity with a Brother's Grimm themed dessert degustation that was aimed at their friends and family. I am no friend nor family but from what I remember some tickets were available to the public for these sessions too. I missed this one but the photos I saw posted looked AMAZING. It was before I was set to fly out to New York so I had to save my money.

      Anna hinted that she would be collaborating with Gelato Messina in the near future and that this one was going to be a an absolute sell out. We then bumped into Anna again at the Cakes Bakes and Sweets show at Homebush and felt like complete stalkers but she said that details for the next degustation were being released soon so to keep our eyes glued to social media. As soon as the degustation was announced on Anna's and Messina's facebook pages and Instagram accounts, Jessica jumped on and made the booking for 4 of us. Apparantly we were pretty lucky because as predicted this one sold out instantly. I may have missed the Brother's Grimm one because of New York but the Messina one was on the day I landed back home but there was no way I'd miss it.

      So I landed back home from New York back in May, napped for a few hours and then jumped on a bus into the city towards the Shangri La to meet Ryan. We arrived at the lobby lounge and this time we were greeted with a lovely Messina cocktail. Can't remember exactly what this was but it involved mango sorbet, and a lot of alcohol.
Pulled pork sliders.
      It was nice to see that the 'canapes' had become more substantial. It was good to have something savoury before we embark on our journey into a sugar coma especially when most of us would have come straight from work on empty stomachs. As much as it would be an utter dream to just eat desserts for dinner, a few savoury bites before the main event were welcome.

Miniature pizzas.

Crispy noodle wrapped prawns.

Reunited after 10 days apart.

Our kids, Chai and Jessica.

Anna vs Messina menu.

Anna, the awesome DJ Brooks who is now a regular part of Anna's dessert degustations and head chef of Messina Sydney Donato Toce caught mid sentence.

First course: 'Paddle Pop'.
     Anna's dessert. I can't remember all the elements but there was yogurt, raspberry and pistachio. It was pretty good...
Second course: 'Get Him to the Greek'.
      This was a Messina dish. Ouzo, lots of it. Ouzo soaked watermelon, ouzo jelly, and watermelon sorbet. Think this dessert may have gotten me a bit tipsy!

Phil Khoury -  'Mr Bubbles'
Third course: 'Mr Bubbles'.
A bit of fun with the bubble machine.

Oops, we lost focus there.

Plating up station.
Fourth course: 'Beet 4 a Root'.
      A savoury break in between dessert courses. A beetroot tart tartine, I can't say I was too fond of this. I've got to be in the mood for beetroot.

Gelato demonstration by Donato. I just need me a Thermomix.

Felicity plating up.

Some quality control by Anna.

Fifth course: 'Banana Split'.
      Anna's take on a banana split. Banana and chocolate cake, banana ice cream, caramel popcorn, marshmallowm honeycomb, doughnut. YUM.

Sixth course: 'Black Forest'.
      The gelato cake made famous on Masterchef, we got our own little mini versions. I loved everything about it.

'Take Messina Home'.
      Unfortunately we couldn't actually take Messina home. Packing the gelato for us all to take home would have been a nightmare. And we'd probably all end up with tubs of slush by the time we got home. Instead we got little jars of deliciousness that we could add to our own ice cream/gelato at home. Peanut butter & milk chocolate fudge, nougat, and strawberry balsamic puree.

Top: With the Gelato Messina crew.
Bottom: With the crazy lady with the mohawk, Anna Polyviou.
      Anna hinted that she was going to team up with Adriano Zumbo and the crazy Andy Bowden of Hartsyard for the next few rounds. The degusation with Adriano Zumbo tickets sold like hot cakes and sold out even quicker than the Messina one. I decided to skip it though because to be honest... I am no Zumbo fan girl... Jessica and Chai managed to get seats to that one. As soon as the degustation with Andy Bowdy was announced all four of us jumped on to book tickets as soon as details were released. Ok well, it was us 3 girls and Ryan was just collateral.

Jack Daniels caramel milkshake.
      The theme for this next degustation was 'America' as Hartsyard is about all things Americana. We were served a boozy milkshake/smoothie each to get us warmed up.

Prawn Rolls.

Southern fried chicken, of course.

Hurrican potatoes/curly fries.
      Whatever you call them I was feeling pretty full already, but couldn't say no. I was really worried I'd have no room for dessert!

      Would you like some bacon with your grass? Table centrepieces with edible elements - candied prosciutto and pretzels with some baby apples somewhere in there. And buckets of m&ms.
Menu and sponsors.

I loved that they incorporated the theme into the pastry kitchen.
Andy vs Anna.

First course: 'Carrot Cake'.
      Carrot cake, churros, mandarin. This was pretty much two courses in one. A carrot cake paddle pop and a churro and mandarin dessert.

Second course: 'Doughnut King Vs. Cookie Monster'.
      Anna said that she loves dougnuts and cookies and couldn't decide on one or the other so combined both in this dessert. 'Cookies and milk' in the form of a panna cotta with strawberry gel and fresh strawberries with a choc chip 'cookie' on top and a scoop of ice cream. The little donut on the side was too cute for words.

Greg and Andy plating up.

Andy explaining his dish.
Third course: 'Fairy'.
      Phil Khoury aka Mr Fairy Floss. Ryan mister sucket for fairy floss went crazy with the fairy floss but I passed on this course. Well okay I may have pulled off a little of the crazy spun sugar from his stick...

Fourth course: 'Deep Fried Cheesecake Sundae'.
      I'd only recently been to Hartsyard and so out on this dessert that was one of their early items on the menu. I loved it, deep fried cheesecake, who would have thought! Caramel, popcorn, nuts, crunch, it was amazing.
Andy gives us a demonstration on how he constructs one of his crazy cakes.

Andy's Chocolate Maltesar Cake.

Fifth course: 'Pizza Delivery'.
      A savoury bite to break up the sugar - very much needed this time but I was actually already feeling pretty stuffed.
Sixth course: 'Pumpkin Pie'.
      Andy's take on a pumpkin pie. I can't say that I thoroughly enjoyed this dish. Though I was also very very full by this stage so could not finish this course at all. I was in particular blown away by the 'bacon snow'.
'Take Andy Home'
      The mother of all take home goodie bags/boxes. We didn't really get to take Andy home but he made everyone TWO of his pies (key lime and chocolate pecan) plus we also got a slice of his cake to take home too. And who could resist a piece of candied prosciutto and a pretzel. We pretty much had to roll ourselves out of the place this time.
      An interesting fact - it turns out Ryan went to high school with Andy! It tool Ryan a while to remember but he says that in high school the guy was a very different looking person... we all grow up though right? ;)

      The next big major sugar loaded event was Sweet Street at the Shangri La Hotel in August. Of course we weren't going to miss it though Jess and Chai were half way across the world in Hawaii so missed out. Anna teamed up with all her friends in the pastry world from both Sydney and Melbourne for this first of it's kind event in Sydney. There were the likes of LuxBite, Cacao Lab, Savour School of Pastry, N2 Extreme Gelato and Adriano Zumbo, as well as Anna's amazing pastry team selling their awesome sweet creations. 

      The deal was that for a $55 entry fee, you got a card that had about 10 tokens on it. Each dessert ranged in between 1-3 tokens so you can build up a bit of a mini grazing dessert degustation. There was also one stand selling some tasty savoury food such as roast pork and satay skewers which was a welcome end to the night of sweet indulgence. It was a bit chaotic with long winding queues but I am sure it will be an even better event if they do decide to do it again. Check out the review from one of my favourite bloggers - Not Quite Nigella.

      Anna has been a bit crazy busy flying across the country attending various events but she did hint to me that the next dessert degustation may be in November shhhhh.... Go on and stalk Anna on facebook and instagram and keep your eyes peeled. I'd also get the number for the food and beverage department of the Shangri La Hotel saved on speed dial because you need to call them first and then they will send you a booking form for your credit card details which you then need to fax or email back to confirm your seats. The phone lines go nuts as soon as the details are released and the event is limited to only 20 seats per night. The degustations are a tonne of fun and a great experience, I feel like I almost need a loyalty card considering I've now been to five of these things. Though for the sake of my health and wallet I should probably refrain from attending too many more of these in the near future so I am passing on these details to all of you.
      Anna said that she's going to try and make it a monthly event collaborating with different pastry chefs, it's usually only one night a month but most of the time due to popular demand they put on a second night where the menu is slightly altered depending on the feedback from the first session. The price is now $165 a person so it's not cheap but it is well worth the experience, you've got to do it at least once... if not twice in your life time.