Sunday, 27 December 2009

Christmas cooking and baking

Seasons greetings and merry belated Christmas to all!!
I can't believe that I've been back at home for almost a week and now, its almost time to go back to Blighty :(

So what have I been up to for the last few days? A combination of last minute shopping for presents and ingredients followed by lots of time spent in the kitchen cooking up goodies.

 No mince pies this year - just a little Christmas cake with toasted almond paste icing "a la Darina Allen". Decided to use the fruit cake recipe from school and it tasted pretty good, maybe needs a bit more fruit to be like a proper Chrimbo cake.....and dare I say it, more booze! :)

Standby treats for Christmas Eve visitors - clementine mini-madeleines. Easy to make and always go down a treat. Known to convert cake sceptics! :)

This year, after watching Jamie Oliver whip up Christmas dinner on the telly, I decided that it looked relatively easy and took up the challenge of cooking dinner for the big day!! Lots of work but the day itself wasn't as frantic as I had imagined - turkey didn't go into the oven until 2pm and we were sat down to dinner by around 6pm? I think the key is to try and get as much prep work done in the days beforehand. I also had the luxury of having Ma Chan in the kitchen as my sous chef/plongeur, brilliant!! So, what was on the menu?

Mediterranean style vegetable quiche (roasted peppers, aubergine, courgette) with mixed salad and sunriped tomatoes. The quiche was pretty tasty but had to go with a savoury shortcrust recipe from Raymond Blanc cos I forgot to bring back recipe from school - need something a bit more buttery next time!

Traditional Christmas dinner - roast turkey (first time carving the whole bird!) and all trimmings (bar a ham!) - gravy, cranberry sauce, roast spuds, roast parsnips, roast carrots and brussel sprouts with bacon and chestnuts.

Dessert should've been a walk in the park but I decided it would be a bit of a laugh and dice with death to make the elusive chocolate fondant! The recipe came courtesy of my kind ex-colleagues in HK so I was confident that it would taste good - the only problem was that I never asked how long the cooking time would take? A lot of guesswork and as you can see, the first attempt at unmoulding was a disaster! In the end, it was a little overcooked which was a pity - at least it wasn't cooked through which would've been an absolute disaster!! The poached pears worked well with the chocolate, the ice cream was a little melted (bought in, not homemade!) and I really need to work on my quenelle making! I have since contacted the experts in HK and found out approximate cooking times, as well as another all-important tip - the mould must be lined with baking parchment inside!!!! Must try again! :)
I think Christmas dinner was enjoyed by all so worth all the time and effort!

I also gave myself an ambitious task to try and make millefeuille at home - a little worried about the "feuilletage inverse" melting on me whilst rolling but was surprised that this step was pretty straightforward! I had the same problem with the chocolate fondant in that I had no idea how to bake the feuilletage (chef forgot to write any temperatures or cooking times in our recipe book, c'est quoi ca, chef?!) so it was guesswork a little came out pretty good but I need to roll it out a bit thinner next time and also ask chef if we put a tray on top of the feuilletage to press it down a bit? I can barely remember anything from our millefeuille class!! Pastry cream was also made without too much problem (I'm always scared of it now ever since my Paris-Brest fiasco!) The final products were a little wobbly but they tasted good and I had enough to bring to a close family friend who regularly checks my blog and his whole clan gave me the thumbs up! :)

Eating in London - Al Dar

Our last meal out in London before heading home for Chrimbo - at one of our favourites, Al Dar. Our usual haunt is the one in High St. Ken but its closed for refurbishment at the moment so had to make do and slum it with the Sloaneys at Al Dar on Kings Road instead :)
Ordered way too much food as usual but did feel nicely sated afterwards :)
Some starters - the best hummus ever, fried spuds with onions and peppers, aubergine cooked with tomatoes, garlic and onion.

Mixed grill - yum!  

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Wedding cake no.2

Only 2 weeks post HK trip and it was back on another plane to the Emerald Isle to make wedding cake number 2, this time, for JD's brother. In hindsight, all I can say now was that I had a shedload amount of beginner's luck when I made my 1st wedding cake for my brother's wedding in September!! Everything that could go wrong with this cake went wrong, starting from the word go......
  • Due to me not checking train times and trains running at less than a snail's pace on a Sunday, I missed my flight back 10 minutes! Luckily, I managed to buy myself a new ticket for the next flight but sod's law, this flight got delayed, which meant losing time on making the actual cakes. 
  • Making the actual physical cakes (my forte on the previous outing) turned out to be my biggest nightmare - instead of making 6 (2 per tier), I ended up making 10.... or was it 12?? Big problem with the cakes collapsing - I think it could have been due to my overzealous opening of the oven to check if everything was OK, but the final cakes still had a slight problem despite me not going anywhere near the oven. Very embarrassing for a pastry chef and something I will need to do more research on.....
  • Making sugarflowers turned out to be more time-consuming than I had anticipated so there was no time to make leaves. I tied all the flowers into a posie and separated with cream ribbon (not enough of the one width so had to make do with whatever I had, another problem when you are making cakes but having to bring materials from abroad)
  • Contrasting ribbon colour and flowers look great but a bit of a problem when you need to colour the flowers and some of the dust colour rubs off on the flowers....eeek! 
  • Found myself under the weather all week and had the full house of viruses/bugs - sore throat, chest infection, tickly cough, runny nose.....oh, and a dental checkup to see if there was anything wrong with a filling resulted in 3 visits to the dentist for further fillings plus the most painful teeth clean I have ever had in my life!!
  • Head must've had a loose screw when I ordered some materials for the cake as I ordered the wrong size cake-box for the largest tier??? Doh!! Luckily, there was a cake shop in town from where I was able to buy the right size cake-box, a close shave. 
  • The cake was made on time and JD then came to collect me and cake to bring over to the wedding venue......out in the sticks of West Ireland, oops....I meant Kerry!! :) As luck would have it, traffic was abominable and roads were full of potholes so I was keeping my fingers crossed that the cakes would remain unscathed. We dropped the cake off to the the hotel where the reception would take place the night before; some of the pearl icing had fallen off on the journey but managed to repair it with a little edible glue.
After the cake had been delivered safely, I then told the hotel staff that I would be back the following day to set up the cake so they didn't need to worry about bringing a 3-tier cake up to the reception room. My "icing on the cake" moment with this cake would come later when I returned to the the hotel after the church ceremony to find that all cakes and sugarflowers had disappeared from the cold room where I had left them the night before. Cue minor panic attack.....I was then brought up to the reception room where, much to my surprise/annoyance/majorly f**cked-offness that some twat, in their infinite/lack of wisdom decided that they would set up the wedding cake themselves?! At this point, I was so angry that I could barely speak and demanded to know who had done this when I had specifically said that I would look after it? After what seemed like a bloody eternity, some numpty came out and admitted that she had set it up.......apparently, nobody had passed on my message last night.....numpty no. 2 appeared and said that she would take full responsibility for what had happened. As I said before, I was so pissed off that I really didn't know what to say but now thinking back, this was what I should've said:
  • WTF? Do you think the cake looks set up the way you've stacked it?? 
  • Why does the cake board look bare? That's because there's no ribbon around it?
  • Do the edges where the cakes have been stacked looked finished? Again, NO RIBBON!!
  • Have you made sure that the cakes are perfectly centred when stacked?
  • Is the "best side" of the cake facing the front?
  • Where have some of the pearls gone? Obviously, you don't know cos you didn't make the cake or particularly cared when it did fall off either cos its now stamped onto the carpet. 
  • Sure, you can take full responsibility but are you going to go off and make me a replica cake now that some of the ivory icing has been stained with red dust colour since your incompetent staff did not know that the colouring of the flowers can rub off?
  • Oh yeah, I can tell you when the cake will be ready for photos but you know would've been ready a long time ago if you hadn't f**cked around with it in the first place??
To some people, it might seem as though I have gone a bit OTT with my rant but this is a reflection of how serious I am when I've been given the responsibility to make a cake for the most important day of my "client's" lives. Nothing short of perfect will cut it, I'm afraid. It took me at least 3-4 hours to "cool off"(!) - the cake did look pretty good in the end and the other important thing was that everyone who tasted it liked it a lot. My only regrets were that there were no leaves in the bouquet and that the colour of the roses were not quite right. I really hope that my 2 efforts in 2009 will be good enough to land me some work experience at a cake decorator next year - fingers crossed!! :)

    Tuesday, 22 December 2009


    Following my culinary adventures out East, I flew back to freezing Blighty and spent the week mainly jobhunting and doing some last minute prep work and practice for wedding cake no. 2. Come the weekend, JD and I decided to indulge in one of our favourite past-times......going for grub! We had thought about going to an Italian in Soho called Bocca di Lupo which is currently one the "hot" places to go at the moment but fussy moi wasn't particularly bowled over by the menu. In the end, I plumped for a small Japanese restaurant near Camden called Asakusa. It had been recommended to me by a friend almost 5 years ago but somehow, I had never got around to trying it until now (すみませんノリコ!). Anyway, we finally made it on a cold, wet Saturday evening and were not disappointed. Food was great, we ordered lots as usual and also had a great view of the sushi chef at work as we were sitting at the bar - will definitely be coming back again! :)
    Some hijiki seaweed - apologies for crap photo!

    Vegetable tempura - hot, light and fluffy batter coating juicy chunks of veg, yum!

    Seared beef served with ginger, radish, garlic and soy sauce - great flavour combo but meat rather bland if eaten on its own.

    Grilled mackerel (delish and good for you!)

    Chicken tonkatsu - resto had ran out of tori kara age so we went for tonkatsu. Massive portion and most importantly, very yummy!

    Eel roll and spicy tuna roll

    We ended the meal with a big steaming bowl of udon each - ah!! Noodle heaven!!

    Last meal in HK

    After much deliberation, I finally bit the bullet and decided to take Ma Chan for a spot of lunch at the restaurant where I did my mini-stage. Getting a table turned out to be not that straightforward; however, front of house were able to squeeze us in after a bit of a "re-jiggle". At the time of the reservation, I had been told that there may not be a table for us with a harbour view; this was totally fine by me but on the day of the lunch, we lucked out and sat at a table with a gorgeous view.

    The lunch menu is set with 6 to 7 choices per course; one can choose 2 or 3 courses for a set price. The bonus of the weekend lunch is that there is a choice of desserts from a dessert "trolley" and you can pick all 6 if you really felt like it!! After a perusal of the menu and with some help and recommendations from one of the managers (Simpson), we finally made our choices. Lunch was truly delish and the service was absolutely awesome - I actually spent most of the meal feeling very embarrassed that my former colleagues were now waiting hand and foot on me but Ma Chan enjoyed the whole experience very much! As well as the great service and food, we were served an additional course in between starters and mains of  langoustine ravioli with sweetbreads, one of the restaurant's signature dishes. It really was a wonderful and exquisite dish - one to rival the langoustine raviolis at l'Ardoise!! :)
    The other surprise was my former colleagues in desserts asking whether we would like to taste any other desserts on the "a la carte" menu. My first choice was the apple tart which I had helped make a "few" during the last week but unfortunately, it would take too long. I then asked for an extra lime souffle as this was the dessert that was served to the VIPs from Michelin a few days before so I figured it had to be good? We were not disappointed!

    A fantastic meal and a lovely end to the working holiday - as I said before, I feel so lucky to have been able to have gained some experience at this resto and feel humbled by the warm welcome of all the staff working there, as a fellow colleague and customer. Thank you again! :)

    Signature dish - Langoustine ravioli with veal sweetbread, girolle mushrooms and seafood emulsion, French classical cuisine at its finest.

    Breast of guinea fowl with caramelised endives and cranberry - really full of flavour, well balanced and very tender meat.

    My choices from the dessert trolley: mini blueberry millefeuille, chocolate tart and salt caramel mousse - all brilliantly executed and very good.

    Lime souffle - lovely flavour, not "eggy" and amazingly light and creamy consistency - I may be a souffle convert! :)

    Monday, 21 December 2009


    After my mini stage in HK, I had just enough time to celebrate a couple of birthdays - one with my good pal D and a very important milestone it was too as she was turning 30! It was a small bash with some close friends - dinner and drinks at Cafe Gray, a newly-opened restaurant in a new boutique hotel called Upper House, next to the Marriott on HK Island. Delightful company but am afraid to say that the food was beyond poor therefore no need for pics!

    The other important day was Ma Chan's b-day - we decided to go for a non-Western meal to celebrate given my previous disaster at L'Atelier so headed to a Korean resto recommended by my friend D in TST called Sorabol. Had a yummy meal, great company as usual and a lovely b-cake to end the meal with courtesy of one of my new friends at Caprice, 多謝 Fai 

    Friday, 18 December 2009

    Day off/eating with the folks!

    During my short stage in HK, I was able to take a day-off in the middle which was fantastic as it was the one day I was able to spend together with Ma and Pa Chan - a real treat since I've spent most of my life apart from the family! :)

    It goes without saying that the day was dominated by food which took us out to Causeway Bay and finished back in the New Territories for a yummy dinner.

    A visit to renowned wonton noodle establishment, Mak's Noodles ("Mak Ngun Gei") for some lunch - I had additional beef brisket with mine. OK, the noodles could've done with a little less lye water.

    Request from Pa Chan to go for a bowl of "guilingao" (lit. turtle essence jelly) - herbal jelly, traditionally made with powdered turtle shell (according to Wikipedia, the particular turtle is endangered, oops!) Supposed to be great for detoxing your insides and getting rid of spots! :)
    It has a pretty strong taste (think strongly brewed herbal tea) but there is sugar syrup to make it taste nicer!

    Dinner at Shatin 18 - new restaurant opened in Hyatt Shatin (near University KCR station), recommendation from CSY, thanks! The restaurant has an open kitchen with 3 chefs from different regions in China (Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai) - the star attraction here is the Peking Duck, served in the traditional style "up North"!

    We had ordered the duck 24 hours in advance but were feeling peckish before it was served so ordered a plate of "woh tip" (pan fried dumplings) to kick things off - very yummy and nice home-made chilli sauces served with them.

    Duck! First, we were served a plate of the skin only which was to be eaten by itself with a sprinkle of sugar. Then it was onto a plate of lean meat which would be eaten the "normal" way, wrapped in a pancake with julienne of cucumber and spring onion and BBQ sauce. We were served a 3rd plate of meat with skin which was also eaten the same way as meat but with an additional garlic sauce. The duck got Pa Chan's seal of approval!! :)

     The rest of the duck meat was stir fried with some crunchy vegetables and served with a lettuce leaf as an additional dish, whilst the duck carcass was used to make a soup.

    The other dishes we ordered (cos we're true fatties!) included: stirfried baby shrimp and fish (my favourite dish of the night), panfried fish and meat patties (recommendation from Time Out but nothing too special) and beef noodles (handpulled on site but unfortunately, the poorest dish of the evening)

    Really stuffed after all this food but couldn't really skip on dessert so sampled the Portuguese egg tarts and tofu dessert (sadly, a little underwhelming)

    Despite desserts being a dampener, I would recommend the trek out to NT just to sample the duck - best to order in advance when you are booking a table for dinner and ideally, go with around 4 people to be able to eat the whole thing and sample other dishes!