My attempt at a ten course tasting menu……….

For my 39th birthday last year I was treated to a day out at Hartington’s School of Food and Drink located in the heart of the Peak District, in Bakewell. If you have read any of my previous blogs you will know that I see myself as a bit of a foodie, I have dabbled with the reality television show Come Dine With Me and have a burning desire to one day, enter Masterchef, regardless of what the outcome may be. (We all know that I was robbed on CDWM). For the record the repeats are starting on More4 March 29th!!

The full day ‘Chef’s Finishing Flourishes (Chefs Skills)’ seemed the perfect way to try out new dishes, showcase new flavours and experiment with new techniques. I’m a big fan of tasting menus, a couple of my most memorable being at Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham, where I was fortunate enough to sit on the Chef’s table for the 10 courses overlooking the kitchen and the second at Winteringham Fields with chef Colin McGurran. On both occasions we opted for the matching wines which whilst being a little extravagant was well worth the money to experience how a wine can completely change the experience of a dish.

With the big day coming I decided I needed to make the most of the experience and experiment with my newfound skills and so pencilled in the diary, a few days after the Chefs finishing flourishes day out, an evening to prepare and serve my own ten course tasting menu with matching wines (other half’s birthday was the ideal opportunity).

March finally arrived, the day was hosted by chef Darren Goodwin who is the head chef at Losehill Hotel and Spa – award winning Orangery Restaurant. Darren demonstrated the preparation of a three course tasting menu and how to build up plates of food and flavours to create three jaw dropping dishes.

On the day Darren taught his aspiring wannabe chefs through the following techniques:

  • Sous vide – I have considered buying a Bain Marie since the course, but not sure my kitchen or my OCD could cope with the clutter

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  • Creating watercress caviar
  • Rice-less risottos (perfect for freezing)
  • Pickling techniques
  • Producing stunning flavoured jellies
  • Working with dry ice

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  • Creating a melting sauce
  • Flavoured soils
  • Producing scented aromas
  • Using a blow torch in cooking

The day was fantastic the participants each had there own work station and required equipment.

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There were at least two people throughout the day periodically cleaning up and washing down which made you feel like a proper chef having your own pot washer. On the day we produced and took home (bar a couple of elements which would not have been practical to transport):

  • Sous vide mackerel, watercress and horseradish ‘sauce’ beetroot jelly – Sous vide mackerel then blow torch skin, beetroot jelly, horseradish melting sauce and watercress caviar

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  • Rump of Lamb, pickled red cabbage ketchup, shallot, broccoli, celeriac risotto – Marinate & poach sous vide, cabbage gel, pickled shallots, broccoli melting sauce, celeriac purée and fine dice risotto

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  • Rhubarb ‘crumble’, and custard  – A poached rhubarb sous vide, with a crumble, milkshake made from the rhubarb juices, vanilla ice cream made with dry ice, rhubarb and vanilla aroma and white chocolate soil (made with dehydrated with tapioca powder)

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All in all it was a fantastic experience and well worth the £145 fee. To top the day off Darren prepared for us a Beef Cobbler for lunch which was divine. The days following, inspired by my newfound skills I began to research  the internet around some of the do’s and don’ts of delivering tasting menus. The general consensus is that large portioning can leave diners feeling bloated whilst lengthy meals can seem strung-out, thats the easy bit. The complex problems arise from combinations of flavours and confused dishes have ingredients fighting against each other instead of sitting happily side by side happily together. Serving small plates of food, in my opinion, is an elegant way of eating, allowing diners to experience more dishes without feeling bloated.

The key to tasting menus is undoubtably the presentation,  it bridges the gap between dishes appearing frugal and purposefully-portioned. I picked up a few Japanese rice bowls and square sauce dishes from my local Sainsbury’s to keep small helpings in proportion. A top tip is to choose courses which allow you to do a lot of the preparation in advance that way the tasting menu will run like lots of short sprints, rather than a marathon dragging into the night.

Try to prepare as many dishes as you can ahead of time. This will ensure that you won’t spend the entire party tucked away in the kitchen instead of out where the action is.  I found that by making the intense sauces and gravy in advance gave me valuable time to concentrate on the more delicate areas of preparation.

You might also consider serving a palette cleanser between courses, such as sorbet, gazpacho or even a small glass of champagne. This will add a feeling of decadence. A final point is that preparing very small dishes adds an additional risk of over cooking or under heating – heated plates and very hot sauces and gravies compensate for this. The evening was a success, the ambience, music and timings all went to plan – Here it is:

A cup of pumpkin soup served with pumpkin seeds and rustic french bread:

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Pan fried langoustines in a white wine, butter and garlic liqueur:

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Sautéed wild mushrooms, parmesan/mushroom sauce:

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Singapore Beef chow mein:

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Poached cod fillet, french lentils with a white wine reduction sauce:

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Sweet roasted shallots with a gorgonzola sauce:

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Fillet steak, roast garlic mashed potato puree, a head of purple sprouting broccoli  and a red wine reduction sauce:

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Ice-cream served with warm grilled figs:

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A local selection of cheeses with caramelised shallots and biscuits:

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Shortbread served with a double espresso:

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Oh and to compliment the dishes Saturday Morning Kitchen’s resident  wine expert Olly Smith also recommended (via twitter) some very reasonable wines from Marks and Spencer – this was my favourite to go with the beef.

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All in all I’m a big fan of tasting menus either in a restaurant or homemade and I will definitely have another go, maybe next time a long leisurely ten course tasting menu for a few friends – when are you free??????

A Weekend at The Shard, London

We have stayed in central London many times and often paid extortionate onsite hotel parking. I didn’t even consider parking at The Shard and have no idea of the charge. We decided to use http://www.justPark.com and very easily found off road private parking a couple of minutes drive off the M1 in Brent Cross. Parking from 12noon Friday to 3pm Sunday was a very reasonable £23. Two minutes walk from Brent Cross tube station provides a direct tube line to Tower bridge – the closest station to the Shard and made life so much easier.

We didn’t book direct through the hotel, prices were significantly higher, instead opting for a third party booking service. I emailed prior to our arrival to confirm check in arrangements and was informed that check in wasn’t until 3pm, however they would happily look after our bags if we wanted to explore before check in time. This seemed like a good use of the day so we rocked up at the hotel around 11.30 and checked in – the helpful receptionist took our contact number then they could ring us as soon as the room was available. One thing we were offered was to check into a room that was ready and I overheard this option offered to other guests a couple of times over the weekend. Bear this in mind as you run the risk of taking a less spectacular room if you take up this offer. If you are aware of the buildings global positioning and the room numberings you can quickly figure out which rooms have the better view. For reference any room other than south aspect will give you breath taking city views.

The View from The Shard

The hotel is situated from the 35th – 52nd floor of the Shard, there is a restaurant Ting at level 35, the bar Gong at level 52 as well as an infinity pool, gym and then rooms and suites in between.

Another point to consider is that the hotel doesn’t release all their rooms straight away they hold a handful back until nearer the date, this also applies for reservations at the restaurant. Ting restaurant was fully booked when we made the room reservation months earlier, however we managed to get a table on the day.

When you arrive at the shard, just look up and see how tall it really is. The doormen wore their Russian winter hats and were very polite and attentive with constant smiles on their faces despite me rocking up in my skinny jeans and well worn Converse’. I was initially surprised at the high level of security, your bags will be X-rayed on arrival but even the security man was politeness personified. As guested you are ushered away into guest only lifts away from the hustle of the tourists experiencing the ‘View from the Shard’.

The lift from the ground floor took literally seconds to take us up the 35 floors. When the lift doors open in the main lobby you are greeted by the most breathtaking views of London and it is those views that will remain with you for the entire duration of your stay.

After a very quick and slick check in – and the reserving of £200 per night on your credit card for additional expenses we were shown up to our room which was out of this world. we booked an Iconic City View room, and must I say the view was amazing! The room had views of St Paul’s cathedral, London Eye, London Bridge, BT tower and even Wembley Stadium from the distance. We basically could see the whole of north and west London and the wonderful River Thames. It was definitely a city view. Window Shutters lifted as we entered our room to show the beautiful skyline of London, with warm jasmine tea to welcome us.

A review is not a review without some critical analysis and while I struggled, other than not being able to afford to go back for a few months I would like to share a few very minor points.

Breakfast in the Ting restaurant was very average for a 5 star hotel – with very little choice and on both days we waited ten minutes for the popular breakfast dishes to be replenished. The staff were at times irritatingly attentive taking plates and dishes away before you had even finished your mouthful, a pet hate of mine.

I used the gymnasium on both mornings of our stay which was open 24 hours. On both occasions I was the only person in there. The equipment was high quality and new and again breathtaking views

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On the first evening we popped into the Gong, the stylish bar located on the 52nd floor, unfortunately nobody informed us we needed to book and we were unable to get in whether we were residents or not, which was a little perturbing, it was heaving – a real party atmosphere, music, low lighting but like everywhere in the hotel, the real focus was the view – the view from the Shard during the day is beautiful, the view from the Shard at night is stunning.

We went to TĪNG – the main restaurant for our evening meal on our first night. The restaurant has fantastic tables by the windows where you are seated at a slant to make the most of the view – you really don’t get tired of it. Obviously I had already checked out the menu and knew what I was going to eat. The food is modern European with subtle Asian influences using locally sourced ingredients. TĪNG is the Chinese word for ‘living room’, and this restaurant is 35 floors above ground level. Another point, you must visit the toilets, trust me on that one.

If you’re on a budget it might be worth checking out alternative local, and very good restraints as TĪNG is not cheap and nor is the wine, however a must do just once. We ate out locally on our second night and had equally good food and wine at half the price, but without the view. Would recommend the Wool Pack pub for its lively atmosphere and Village East restaurant for very good food and cool crowd (book in advance at weekends) on Bermondsey Street – 5 minutes walk from the Shard.

Heading out of the Shard for a meal allows you to see the exterior of the Shard which from the outside looks unremarkable, until you look upwards, about 306 metres upwards, to see the pinnacle of the Shard, a mesmerising glass structure by the Italian architect Renzo Piano and the tallest building in the European Union. There is also the hustle and bustle of Borough Market within spitting distance and also another decent pub en route, the Bunch of Grapes is worth a visit.

There are too many highs to capture, but to name a few: The quality of the furniture and fixtures, the binoculars in the room, the oversized bed, the complementary Nespresso Machine in the room, the huge bathroom with the TV embedded in the mirror, the views, the gym, the infinity pool, his and her Kimono’s, the mini bar and the epitome of opulence……the heated toilet seat.

#4 Andorra Escudella AtoZWorldCookingChallenge

For the background to this #AtoZWorldCookingChallenge Click HERE 

Admittedly, I had to look in the atlas to place Andorra and found it was nestled between France and Spain. Given its location, Andorran cuisine is heavily influenced by its neighbours yet has some unique flavours of its own. Due to the mountainous terrain, it has surprisingly little arable land with its main crops being harvested there are wheat, rye, barley, oats and vegetables.

The national dish of Andorra is a hearty stew called Escudella, which has numerous ingredients with the core six being, white beans, ham, chicken, potatoes, rice and pasta. What I love about this dish is its versatility, cost and availability of ingredients. I had a burning desire to make a huge quantity and divide up into tupperware containers for an endless supply of work lunches, this was a mistake as I soon got fed up of the stodginess. Having said that, please don’t let this put you off giving Escudella a try – just not in such large quantities as I did. There’s a heavy influence of meat in this dish, however this could easily be substituted or left out completely for a vegetarian option.

Escudella is not Escudella without rustic bread, Andorra use a lot of ‘bread plates’ to serve their food in and instead of serving bread with butter, they rub garlic and mash fresh tomato on warm slices of grilled bread, (Pa Amb Tomaquet), a must if you’re going to give this relatively bland dish a try.

  • Ingredients:
  • 4 Chicken thighs – bone in (bones for the stock)
  • 1 Ham hock – cooked
  • 2 Onions
  • 4 Potatoes
  • 4 Sping onions
  • 1/2 Green cabbage
  • 2 cans of white beans – of your choice – I used Cannelloni, butter beans and chick peas
  • 1 Cup of Rice
  • 1 cup of pasta
  • Generously seasoned and some chilli flakes give it that extra heat!

Method:

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  1. I cooked the chicken in foil with a drizzle of white wine the previous day then de-boned
  2. Make a good broth/stock with the water, chicken and ham bones, simmering slowly for about an hour
  3. Heat the oil in a large skillet, when the onions begin to brown add the pieces of chicken and ham and brown slowly
  4. Peal the potatoes and any other vegetables you can find and chip into chunks to suit, then add to the skillet with the ham and the chicken
  5. Give it a good stir
  6. Remove the bones from the broth and discard, and pour through a sieve to ensure there are no nasty bits of bone or grizzle
  7. Pour the broth into a large sauce pan and ass the contents of the skillet.
  8. Add the beans, rice and pasta. Cook for about 10 – 15
  9. minutes, until the rice and pasta are done, then serve very hot with rustic garlicky, tomato bread.