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Monthly Archives: December 2016

John Whaite’s Kitchen School – a Fabulous Cooking Course

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Thursday 15 December – and I ventured north into deepest Lancashire to Wrightington, to the John Whaite Kitchen for a one day cooking course making delicate afternoon tea delights. See here for the link.

And this was a really big adventure for this quirky writer – I had travelled all the way from Sydney, Australia to do this course! And of course I’ve also been doing heaps of foodie stuff in the UK along the way, to be featured in later posts.

John was the winner of the Great British Bakeoff 2012, and I am a huge fan of Bakeoff.

“Festive Afternoon Tea with John Whaite” was held in a converted barn on John’s family property, and the vibe from the get go was warm, welcoming and very pre-Christmas festive.

Wonderful smells wafted my way as I entered and sat down with 9 other jolly and eager cooks! Coffee and cinnamon rolls began the day at the big communal table.

John introduced the day in the way he continued throughout our course – friendly, knowledgeable and with a boyish grin. And his naughty sense of humour made the day very entertaining…

Under John’s guidance we made three recipes with a Christmas twist, as well as having John demonstrate an additional recipe.

So Gingerbread Latte Cakes, little Mont Blancs and Fig Prune Port and Stilton Tartlets, plus John’s Cranberry and Orange Scones were created by the class and John during the day. And to add to the Christmas cheer there was mulled cider, its heady scent permeating the cooking space.

What was so impressive about the course was the balance between learning through demonstration and actually using the techniques, as well as John being on hand to troubleshoot our queries.

We made the recipes together, utilising the blast chiller, fridge and ovens to prepare the different stages of each recipe concurrently.

We learnt how to make genoise sponge, short crust pastry and sablé, frangipane, mousse, chocolate ganache and buttercream, all basic techniques of patisserie making.

I have a pretty good understanding of cooking – but this course showed me so many additional techniques, tricks and really good tips!

As readers of this blog know, refinement is not my thing – but John showed me how finessing patisserie is not as difficult as it looks.

One of my culinary aims is to pipe accurately and well. While this is a work in progress, I  think that John’s instruction and demonstrations have given me a lot of confidence to get this skill under control.

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After all the rolling, mixing and piping, and flour, sugar, eggs, cream, chocolate and spices were all fragrantly combined into our afternoon tea delicacies, we sat down at the communal table for our own afternoon tea washed down with glass or two of prosecco. This was a lovely way to finish the day – plus we got to take our beautiful bounty home!

I had a ball! My partner for the day, Kathryn, was delightful and very patient with my piping efforts. The rest of the group were fun and  very supportive too.

I loved the whole thing. Hats off to John for being a great cook, teacher and host!

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Christmas Cherry Cheesecake Semifreddo

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If you’re looking for cold pud ideas for Christmas lunch , this is what I did last year. Jamie Oliver had come up with a delightful frozen ice cream bombe using seasonal fresh cherries (at least for us in the Southern Hemisphere). But you could use frozen cherries if you are living in northern climes.

Cherries + cheesecake mixture =  cherry cheesecake semifreddo bombe, spectacular when frozen in a domed bowl and then turned out. Utterly delicious to eat…

Jamie has combined three great ideas – cherries because they’re seasonal for us in Australia, cheesecake which is always a winner and semifreddo for all us ice cream lovers!

It’s an easy recipe but you need to be prepared for a quite a few steps. It took me an hour or so on Christmas Eve, then freezing time overnight. It was ready to go for lunch on Christmas Day. I made these changes to the original recipe:

I used frozen pitted cherries rather than fresh (simply to save time pitting the fresh cherries)
I used ginger nut biscuits for the biscuit crunch component instead of digestive biscuits. This really worked as the biscuit crunch had a great festive ginger flavour!
Ingredients

150g digestive biscuits (I used ginger nuts)
75g unsalted butter
250g fresh cherries (I used frozen pitted cherries)
250g golden caster sugar
1 lemon
4 large free-range eggs
250ml double cream
250g cream cheese
50g dark chocolate
A large handful of cherries or mixed fresh berries

Method
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Blitz the biscuits in a food processor until fine. Melt the butter in a small pan over a low heat and stir in the blitzed biscuits and a good pinch of sea salt.
Empty the mixture into a small baking dish (roughly 15 x 20 cm), pat down and bake in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes until golden and firm. Leave to cool.
Meanwhile, halve and de-stone the cherries and place in a small pan with 200g of the caster sugar. (Or use frozen cherries). Finely grate in the lemon zest and squeeze in the juice of half and place over a medium-low heat.
Gently bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 6-8 minutes, or until softened and syrupy. Leave to cool completely, then blitz two-thirds of the mixture into a purée in a blender.
When you are ready to assemble the semifreddo, separate the eggs into two large mixing bowls and pour the double cream into a third bowl. Whisk the cream to soft peaks and beat in the cream cheese.
Whisk the egg yolks with the remaining caster sugar until creamy and pale and doubled in volume.
Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of sea salt until stiff peaks form.
Gently fold the whites into the yolks, using a large metal spoon to keep the mixture as light as possible.
Beat a large spoonful of the egg mixture into the cream cheese mixture to loosen it, then carefully fold through the remaining.
Marble in half the puréed cherries and crumble in most of the biscuit mixture in large and small pieces, then fold through most of the whole cooked cherries. Spoon the semifreddo into a 1.5 litre ceramic bowl, then crumble over the remaining biscuit and ripple through most of the remaining purée. Put the dish into the freezer for at least 6 hours.
When you are ready to serve, dip the bowl 2/3 of the way into a large bowl or pan of just-boiled water, being careful not to submerge completely. Hold until you start to see the semifreddo loosen from the sides of the bowl. Place an upside down cake stand or plate on top of the bowl, and quickly turn over, holding one hand on the bowl and one hand on the cake stand.
The semifreddo should come out in a beautiful dome. Serve garnished with the remaining puree, cooked cherries, shavings of dark chocolate and a handful of fresh cherries or mixed berries.

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Berry Meringue Cake for Christmas

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I made this cake last year for my friend Ruth’s birthday. I’m re-blogging it here as Christmas approaches as it would make a colourful festive offering.

I  think it would be lovely to have at Christmas time – maybe on Boxing Day if not on the big day itself.  It has echoes of a Christmas trifle – fresh berries, sponge and cream.  The meringue gives another texture to the creation.

Each layer is easy to make, and the whole cake can be assembled on the day you bake it. But it does take a little more time than (my) average throw-all-the-ingredients-in-the-food-processor cake!

To make it, you construct layers of meringue and sponge cake with layers of berry mousse, rasbberry jam, more berries and cream. The mousse really softens the meringue layers and make the sponge cake almost dissolve.

You will need: meringue layers, sponge cake layers, berry mousse, raspberry jam, whipped cream and fresh berries.

Berry Mousse – I used raspberries, blackberries and a few cherries. I’ve made it before with blueberries and strawberries in the mix too.

Ingredients
400g mixed frozen berries
125g caster sugar
300ml cream
1 sheet gelatine
Method
Soften gelatine in a bowl of water for 5 minutes. Place frozen berries in a saucepan with the caster sugar. Cook over a low heat until the sugar dissolves and the berries begin to break down. Remove from heat.
Squeeze excess water from the gelatine and add to the berry/sugar mixture in the saucepan. Stir gently to dissolve the gelatine. Set aside to cool. Whip the cream to soft peaks in an electric mixer. At this stage you can strain the berry mixture if you want a pure mousse, or you can leave the broken down berries in the mixture if you want a more fruity mousse.
Fold the berry mixture carefully into the whipped cream. Chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour until the mousse has thickened but not set completely.
Meringue Layers

Ingredients
4 egg whites
1 cup caster sugar
a few drops of vanilla essence
1/4 tsp balsamic vinegar

Method
Preheat oven to 120 degrees C. Roughly mark out rectangles the same size as the sponge cake tins on baking paper (about 23cm x 33 cm). Turn over the pieces of baking paper – you can see the rectangle markings – and place them on each of 2 baking trays.
Beat egg whites with an electric mixer until stiff. Gradually beat in sugar, continue beating until very stiff. Stir in vanilla and vinegar.
Spoon meringue onto paper rectangles, smoothing out tops so there no obvious peaks.
Place baking trays in centre of oven. Cook for 10 minutes to set the meringue, then turn down oven to 100 degrees C.
Bake for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, until the meringue is dry, but not brown.
Turn oven off, leave in oven with door ajar until meringue is cool. When meringues are completely cool, carefully remove from baking paper.

Sponge Cakes
Ingredients
50g cornflour
50g plain flour
50g self-raising flour
4 x 60g free range eggs, at room temperature
150g caster sugar
Method
Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Grease 2 rectangular cake tins or Swiss roll tins (I used a regular cake tin and a Swiss roll tin, both 23cm x 33 cm) and line bases with baking paper. Sift flours and 1/4 teaspoon salt together three times to aerate.
Using an electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar in a large bowl on medium-high speed for 6 minutes, or until mixture is thick, pale and tripled in volume. Gradually sift flour mixture over egg mixture while simultaneously folding in with a large metal spoon until just combined.
Divide mixture between prepared tins. Gently level the batter with a spatula. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until cakes have shrunk away from the sides slightly and spring back
when gently touched.
Turn out on to baking paper-lined wire racks. Carefully peel away baking paper, then leave to cool.
To assemble the cake:

Mix a couple of tablespoons of raspberry jam with a teaspoon of water and heat for 30 seconds in the microwave. Brush the jam mixture liberally over both sponge cakes.

Place one of the meringue layers on a serving platter. Spread the meringue with 1/3 mousse. Scatter a few sliced fresh berries over the mousse. Place one of the sponge layers on top of the mousse. Spoon another 1/3 of the mousse onto the cake. Dab a little whipped cream – a couple of tablespoons – onto the mousse. Scatter a few more sliced berries over the mousse and cream. Repeat with the other sponge cake layer, the remaining 1/3 mousse, a little whipped cream and more sliced berries. Place the other meringue layer on top.

Chill in the fridge for a few hours to firm the cake. Decorate with whipped cream and fresh berries in whatever way takes your fancy.

The cake cuts well once it’s chilled. Everything softens up. It keeps well in the fridge, and like trifle, the flavour improves as everything blends together with time!

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Dubai in 24 Hours

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I’m on a fabulous pre-Christmas trip to the northern hemisphere to explore food, culture and theatre! On the way to the UK I stopped off in Dubai to visit my friend and colleague the delightful Ms G, who is currently resident there teaching in an international school.

Ms G treated me to a whirlwind taste of Dubai in 24 hours! Way too short but enough of taster that I know I will return to investigate more Emirati delights.

So here’s the highlights:

Checked in to Ms G’s apartment with its stunning views of some iconic skyscrapers on  Dubai Marina Walk.  See headline photo!

Visited  Ms G’s school in the desert with its fascinating multicultural mix of students and buzzy vibe.

Lunch on the terrace at Jumeirah Beach Hotel with its views of the spectacular sail shaped Burj Al Arab Hotel (pictured below). It was 30 degrees C and we ordered roast Wagyu beef with horseradish and Yorshire pudding!

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Then an urgent nail appointment at The White Room Spa. I had got on the plane straight from work so no time for a manicure – those who know me, know that as a cook my hands are always in flour and sugar making pastry etc and need a lot of TLC!

Off to Atlantis, The Palm, photo below, to see this amazing man made island, and to gaze at the Atlantis, pictures of which have fascinated me when featured on television cooking programs. We had cocktails at Bread Street Kitchen by Gordon Ramsay.  An enormous venue –  less cosy kitchen then colonial bar – think Somerset Maugham and empire days. One of the house specialties is gin. They have  an amazing variety. Not usually a gin drinker, I did succumb to a couple of wonderfully refreshing cocktails. The Floradora and the gin martini were delightful.

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Last stop was dinner at the highly acclaimed La Petite Maison in the Dubai International Financial Centre, a mix of the south of France with Italian overtones.

The venue was ritzy and glitzy, the clientele a mix of ex pats and Emirati, and the vibe was opulent. Not so the food, which while beautifully cooked, was the kind of cuisine that could be eaten in a few mouthfuls. This hungry diner needs a little more to wrap her chops around. A portion of a small sea bass fillet meunière, a tiny green salad, one piece of baguette, and a little pistachio cake were all charmingly served, and no doubt suited the elegant, waif like female diners draped languidly over dining chairs for maximum viewing potential. Oscar Wilde’s Gwendolen would have been impressed!

But I was in Dubai not just to eat, but to experience the vibe, and to whet my appetite for a further visit, so people watching definitely took precedence over food, on this occasion.

And finally, as a reminder that Christmas is a cultural as well as a religious event, the Christmas tree at Jumeirah Beach Hotel, pictured below.

I love Dubai and I will be back. The best part was spending the day with my friend, the ever optimistic, wonderfully organised and always, always, so kind, so caring, Ms G.

Ms G, thank you!

XXX Miss S

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Restaurant Hubert: Sydney Quirk Meets French Chic

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Imagine an underground venue in the heart of the legal and financial district in Sydney, that’s part restaurant, part bar, part theatre, and you have Restaurant Hubert at 15 Bligh St Sydney. The people behind the venture are Jason Scott and Anton Forte from the Swillhouse Group, with chef Dan Peperell in the kitchen. If you’ve been to Frankie’s Pizza or Shady Pines you will be familair with the quirky style of the Swillhouse Group. I love Frankie’s Pizza and have blogged about it here.

Hubert feels like walking back in time into a slightly decadent, old fashioned French restaurant. The decor alone is moody and seductive…dim lighting, dark corners and intmate booths, lots of period pieces. A great place for an “amour rendez-vous”…love tryst…or just a casual get together with friends.

I had several reasons to celebrate with my colleague Ms R,  as we dined together on this particular evening.  In our booth, adjacent to the Bar Normandy, we  perused the excellent wine list from a leather bound tome, the title page of which is pictured here.

wine-listWe began with a delightful sparkling from the Loire, moved on to a fresh and fruit sauvignon blanc from Tasmania and finished with a refined Muscadet dessert wine. All perfectly suited our dinner choices. The menu is based around the sharing of plates, small and large.

We started off with crusty bread – I’m presuming sourdough – and cultured butter. We shared a couple of small dishes: anchovy pain perdu, a wonderfully soft and flavoursome “eggy” bread and the Malakoff – a deep fried Gruyere cheese ball with Dijon mustard and pickle. Of the two, my fav was the latter – very cheesy, very oozy…yum. Our large plate (note only one – we were saving room for dessert) was the Bavette steak, flank steak cooked pink, with bordelaise butter. We had a dish of creamed spinach, to accompany it as well as a salad. Sadly I can’t remember what the salad was. Hmm. Must take notes in future! The steak was my least favourite dish. I’m not overly fond of tougher cuts of beef cooked À la Minute, the result is sometimes chewy.

There were just 3 desserts on the menu, and a cheese platter.  The Santa Claus melon with finger lime, sorrel jelly and young coconut sorbet, sounded intriguing. What is a Santa Claus melon?? But we decided to go down a more traditional path with the creme caramel and le grand macaron – a giant macaron filled with rice cream and raspberries. I ate the latter, and it’s fair to say I haven’t yet met the dessert that could beat me, but this one came close on size alone! Both desserts are pictured here.

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The service was lovely, attentive without being intrusive. The wait staff were young and hip. We really felt looked after with the VIP service.

Judging by the way the venue had filled up by 7.00pm, other Sydney-siders were appreciative of this amazing restaurant too.  Sydney needs more places like Hubert  – great French food, stunning venue and a lovely mix of authentic cooking mixed with a theatrical presentation. Well done!

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