food

Easy ways to cook well, eat well and have fun doing it

Friends cooking together the veagetarian dinner in kitchen

An interesting revelation has come to come me lately. I always had this preconception that as a chef just because I know how to cook I must know how to eat. Let me explain my logic here – when you can cook and anything and enjoy cooking surely you must only eat the very best and cook the very best? Well, yes and no. Yes I do love cooking delicious and beautiful meals but do I always choose them? No. The usual excuses come into play here. Not enough time to cook when I get home from work, not bothered cooking once again or just plain sick of the sight of food and having to decide what to cook for dinner.

Meal plans, frozen meals, ready meals I hear you exclaim! I totally get the logic of this but there is also the friend that goes hand in hand with excuses – habit. It was never a habit of mine to make and freeze meals. It has never been a habit of mine to right a menu for the week. So what do you do when you are not eating well and don’t know where to start.

Learn what foods work for you and your body

  1. What is eating well and what does it mean to you?

Everyone has their definitions of eating well. For some it’s a calorie controlled meal plan, for others it’s a vegetarian diet, other’s it paleo. At the heart of eating well for me is choosing certain non-negotiable items:

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables that are in season – buying seasonal and local means that not only are you getting the best version of your produce, you are also buying at the best value. Fruits and vegetables have seasons for a reason – this is when they grow best. When fruits are in season they are priced to match – there may be a glut from ideal weather so they are able to be sold off at a great price.
  • Quality meat, fish and poultry. If you choose to eat animal products ensure they are the best quality you can afford. To me respecting the animal source is paramount – free range or organic where possible and from reputable sources.
  • Full fat everything – now I know this seems in opposition to eating well but by eating full fat you aren’t compromising on flavour which can be compensated with added sugar or salt in low fat products. Fat satiates whereas sugar can trick your mind into thinking it hasn’t eaten as many calories as it has. Instead of having a small spoon of mayo you may find yourself using 3-4 to create the desired taste.
  • Make from scratch where you can – I am all for eating the foods you enjoy. Biscuits, cakes and muffins are all ok but I prefer that they be made from scratch. Packet mixes are usually just your dried ingredients plus stabilisers and emulsifiers added in. When you make your own foods you can adjust to taste and ensure the ingredients you love are in them. Baking muffins with oats and whole fruits makes for a sweet treat with added nutrients, cakes that can be made grain free without compromising flavour are possible. The same applies to dressings, sauces and marinades. Instead of just buying a sugar syrup with spices you can make robust and interesting combinations that suit your tastes.

Ok so now we have my rules for eating well. What is the next step?

schedule

  1. Create the habit and pay attention to your schedule.

There is no point planning a 7 day meal plan if you know you will be out or working for 3 of those days. Just the same as buying items that will go off quickly if you don’t use them with a plan. Plan for last minute catch-ups, outings or late shifts and what you can do with the food in your fridge if you don’t get to it straight away. Having your vegetables chopped ready for the week can mean that if you find yourself not home for dinner two nights in a row you can just blanch (steam/boil then cool in ice water) them for 2 minutes and then freeze to use when you can. The same applies to fruits. Having them diced up can make them more appealing to grab and if you find you’re just not getting to them pop them in the freezer for baking or smoothies.

 

frustrated cooking

  1. Explore your excuses and reluctance.

The reasons we don’t eat well, move our bodies or take care of ourselves can be varied and many. Family habits, projections and expectations can all create stories in our heads as to why we can’t, won’t, shouldn’t, it’s too hard. So how do we create new positive habits and let go of the stories? Start to question them – Are they yours? Have you been listening to other people’s stories? Are you repeating habits of family members? Are you projecting ideas onto yourself from what you think is required? All these stories and ideas can lock yourself into thinking nothing can change or will change. By exploring limiting beliefs you can choose new ways of being. Being in allowance of what works for you can be the first step in choosing different. Instead of judging the choices you have made to this point you can allow yourself to choose something new.

I am the first to admit that my clothes have gotten considerably tighter due to my excuses. I wasn’t willing to look at the changes in my lifestyle and the effects they would have. I went from working full time as a chef on my feet all day and doing outdoor activities 3-4 times a week to working part time and sporting a foot injury that dramatically reduced my activity levels. All of this can be compensated for but there needs to be no excuses and stories. If I had paid attention to my body, my eating plans and movement I would have identified the need to adjust my lifestyle. Notice I don’t say “go on a diet” or “exercise more”.

It is important to care for yourself without creating unrealistic goals and ideas that just serve to cement us in place versus allowing us to move forward. As the majority of my clothes got tighter I finally stopped, sat down and asked myself some questions. What has changed? What is different? Where am I not paying attention to my body and its care? This is where I came to realise I was eating energy dense foods in quantities I didn’t require. On days when you are moving around a lot and being very active more food may be required. Low key days at home may see you eating less. Or maybe neither of these apply to you but for me this reflection was key to getting my health and well being back on track.

Previous to my foot injury I was easily active. I enjoyed being outdoors and being active. The pain and frustration of my injury had my become all or nothing. Either I could be active or I wasn’t bothered. You can see how this isn’t conducive to good health and well being. So what could I have chosen?

  • Low impact movement: Yoga, pilates, boxing without the running components, using a small trampoline, swimming, bike riding, all these activities are low impact on my feet and could assist in keeping my body moving, vital and healthy
  • Planning meals: Having favourite recipes and meal ideas I know I enjoy and can create easily can take away the what to cook for dinner frustration
  • Proper rehabilitation of the muscles: This was the biggest issue. I refused to see a doctor or podiatrist for my foot pain for months. Not days or weeks, months. Even then I was reluctant to change my work shoes, do the rehabilitation of the muscles and seek other opinions and options. I didn’t want to admit that my body had changed and what may have been a minor issue I allowed to become a major one.
  • Checking in: Instead of just assuming that everything was too hard or too painful I could have checked in daily with what movements were comfortable for that day. Your body is ever changing and ever moving. Some days we are flexible and supple, some days we might be a little stiff and sore but it is changeable with some care and attention

So what did I choose? Only some of the above sometimes. As mentioned, the pain and frustration of my injury had me shutting down any awareness of the change required. I didn’t want to know what I could do I just wanted to mourn what I was no longer capable of. Sound familiar?

So what now?

time to change

  1. The time has come

For me now the time has come to start choosing different and enjoying my body, eating and movement once more. I starting seeing a different chiropractor, I went back to the podiatrist and said my orthotics weren’t working, I saw a physio to release the muscles and it worked. My feet are actually feeling better. I was also unsure that my hormones were in check so I went to a doctor. There is no shame in asking questions of health professionals. Sometimes they may have a key piece of information that you require. Of course no one knows your body like you do but if you don’t ask you can’t change anything.

It can take time to change habits as well. Some may disappear just by acknowledging them and some may take a little more processing but just being willing to choose is the first step.

I am excited at the new changes I know will be possible for me and my body and if you would like some further advice on eating well, cooking delicious foods or choosing supportive and fun movements and activities for your body please feel free to be in touch. I love to share my experience and offer ideas and support for you and your body. If you would like a more in-depth program I have fantastic packages available. Let me know what’s cooking in your kitchen and what has helped you create fabulous health and wellbeing J

We all scream for ice-cream

Summer days are meant for ice-cream. Cool taste sensations and flavours that delight the tongue, what could be more exciting?

Sometimes though, store bought ice-cream can reveal a whole lot of interesting additives, flavours, extenders (water, vegetable shortening, wheat starch) which I prefer to leave on the shelves, not in my stomach. So how you get your ice-cream fix without the stress? The joy that is no-churn ice-cream!

That’s right, no longer do you need to pull your mix out of the freezer and bend your beaters (a lesson I learnt all too well…use the heavy duty paddle next time Luisa…). With this recipe you just mix, whip, fold and freeze. Easy. I will include the traditional recipe as well if you do own a churner as these are also fabulous and a churner does make life a lot easier when creating fantastic ice-cream creations!

So why use sweetened condensed milk in these recipes? The ingredients of condensed milk are just milk, milk solids and sugar. When making traditional ice-cream you use milk, cream, sugar and eggs so this is great for those with egg allergies and there are no thickeners, additives, colours or preservatives. The condensed milk stabilises the ice-cream mix the way eggs do in the traditional recipes allowing you to have the same smooth texture without the fuss. The only difference for me was it is quite rich so a couple of spoons will do.

When creating your own mix, don’t be afraid to get creative with flavours for exciting combinations. Here are some of my favourites:

Hazlenut and chocolate – add a generous scoop of nutella to the mix. If making no churn stir into the condensed milk, if making custard add to the milk and cream mix

White chocolate and passionfruit – for no churn add 100g melted white chocolate and 100ml of passionfruit puree. For the churn, double the amount and add the chocolate to the milk when heating and passionfruit at end.

Strawberry – to make puree blend 150g strawberries with 2 tbsp of icing sugar and strain – add to mix

Malt – for the no churn dissolve 2 tbsp malt in 5tbsp of the pure cream warmed and add to the condensed milk. For the churned add the malt powder to the milk and cream mix when heating

Stay tuned for further recipes teaching you how to make praline mix in’s, fun serving ideas and home made toppings. Yum!

So without further ado, the no-churn ice-cream:

No Churn Vanilla Ice-Cream

Ingredients
  1. 1 can condensed milk (340g)
  2. 300ml pure cream
  3. Splash of vanilla essence
Instructions
  1. Combine vanilla and condensed milk
  2. Whip cream to soft peaks
  3. Fold through cream and milk mixture softly until well combined

And if you’d like to churn your own vanilla ice-cream?

Vanilla Ice-Cream

Ingredients
  1. 560ml cream
  2. 188ml milk
  3. 210g sugar
  4. 6 egg yolks
  5. 1 vanilla pod
Instructions
  1. Bring the cream, milk, vanilla and half of the sugar to a simmer
  2. Whisk the yolks with the remaining sugar until light and fluffy
  3. Mix through the cream and milk with the yolks
  4. Place back on stove in clean pot over low heat and stir until mixture thickens
  5. Strain and allow to cool and chill
  6. Place into churner and follow your machines instructions
Cooking out custard can be a bit tricky so here are some troubleshooting tips
  1. 1. It looks like scrambled eggs – your stove was too hot and the egg yolks cooked too quickly. Never fear, the solution is to allow the mix to cool a little, then add it to a blender and whiz until smooth and strain through a fine sieve. Make sure the mixture is cooled before blending otherwise it can overflow and cause burns
  2. 2. It looks watery and you’ve been stirring for quite a long time – you may need to increase the heat of your stove – a low to medium heat works well for induction and electric, gas should work quickly on low
  3. 3. I need to churn the ice-cream in a hurry – To cool the custard quickly, place the bowl of custard over another bowl filled with ice and water and stir the custard mix until cooled and churn

Putting the Merry in your Christmas

Gift certificate template general

Stuck for last minute Christmas idea? Know someone that loves to cook or you wish they did? Never fear, I offer gift vouchers that can be purchased as either a dollar amount ($50 etc) or class bookings ($150+) which you can provide as either valid for one two hours class or speak to me and we can create a specific class i.e Italian, Cooking with Herbs, Dessert etc

How do you organise a voucher? Just email me at [email protected], I can invoice you for a credit card payment or direct debit and the gift voucher will be in your inbox within 24 hours. How does it get any better than that? 😀 If you’d like to chat about options just gie me a call on 0423 450 363 and we can discuss your options.

Wishing everyone a Happy Holiday season and all the best for the New Year 

 

 

 

Cooking your best without the stress

What if creating in the kitchen could be fun and easy?

What if you could go from this:

frustrated cooking empty fridge man upset cooking

To this:

davin and erin jane family under cover chef simon

Any of these scenarios familiar? A whole lot of ingredients and no idea what to do? A mix that just hasn’t worked? Empty fridge and it’s dinner time? What if all these problems could be solved with ease?

After nearly 14 years as a chef and many more cooking at home, I have seen all sorts of interesting disasters and had to handle plenty of my own. But still cooking has been one of the most interesting and fun contributions to my life. What if the mistakes I have made and learnt from could be the key to showing you how fun and easy food can be? 

I have worked in kitchens all over the world from here in Brisbane to London and Canada. I have cooked functions for 100+ people and worked services where we served over 180 people a la carte and enjoyed every moment. Trust me, I’ve had my share of cooking disasters from burnt food to dropped food and everything in between. But still I have come back for more and kept creating delicious meals. 

So what is the magic element to not losing your cool when things go a little haywire? No it’s not a zen meditation and it’s not reality tv drama. It’s knowing what can be done, what can’t be saved and where to head to next. It has taken time and practice and now I am sharing these skills with you. 

How do you learn these skills to create ease in your kitchen? Coming in 2015 is my series of classes, “Cook your best without the stress”. 

What is cooking your best I hear you ask? It’s creating dishes you love with your own flair and flavour. This is not about following a recipe to the gram nor is it about flying by the seat of your pants when you are not ready to go solo just yet.

These classes are all about discovering your culinary talents and strengths and building on them. Love desserts? Let’s explore that. Can’t get enough of making pasta from scratch? Let’s see what else you can do with flavours and shapes. With a chef at your side guiding you, encouraging you and showing you the ropes cooking your best will be achieved in no time. 

I know that busy schedules, long work days and budgets can all contribute to stress at meal time. With planning, confidence in your skills and menu ideas the stress can disappear with ease. I would like to introduce you to a new way of creating in your kitchen; join me in having some fun, joy and ease in your kitchen today. 

So how do you start? Just register your interest by filling in the contact form with the subject “Cooking your best” and I’ll add you to the list. 

The fine print:

Classes are based on individual lessons created in your home with a private facebook group you are invited to join to share your progress, recipes and successes

You will receive a bespoke lesson plan based on what you would like to cook and learn

The minimum commitment is three classes at $400 total for 2 hours per lesson. Ingredients and travel time (if applicable) are not included. For full terms and conditions please see the FAQ page 

Full recipes, workbooks, notes and photos of your lessons and meals will be included emailed each week following the classes. 

Classes can be booked and started from January 2015

If you would like to book a group class please add this to the contact form and we can arrange a suitable package for group lesson. 

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Undercover Chef Tip – Saving the Herbs

Fresh herbs are great when you are making a salad or cooking and sprinkling them in. But what do you do with them when no further recipe ideas call for them later in the week? A great way to preserve herbs is to freeze them in olive oil or stock for later use. You can just pop a stock cube into a casserole, stew or curry and your herby burst of flavour will cook into the mix.

Defrost the olive oil frozen herbs for dressings or stir into pan when cooking onions and garlic for a recipe. Not only do you get to use up your herbs but you then have some stock and oil ready to go when you need it.

Sad wilted bunches of leftover herbs in the crisper be gone. You’re welcome.

The cheek of it all! – Morrocan style beef cheeks

The saying goes ask and you shall receive. My sister in law asked for beef cheeks and she received them – slow cooked with Moroccan style spices until fork tender and served with a side of roast cauliflower and chickpea salad. Clearly she knew who to ask! B;D

Braised meats are a delicious and simple way to create family favourite meals. Whilst they require time to cook, they are not in fact time consuming to prepare. After sealing the meat and creating the liquid for the beef to cook in, beef cheeks are a great meal that can be left to cook whilst you go about your day.

I have cooked beef cheeks a variety of ways over the years they have come back into vogue – from a carmelised sticky deliciousness as a result of being braised in stout beer to a lighter red wine braise to my version with the Moroccan style spices.

Beef cheeks become a beautiful braised meal when left to stew in their own juices – jokes aside, they do really benefit from a long slow cook as the muscle itself is quite tight and when braised whole keep their shape quite well for presentation. You can also use the cooked cheeks for a ravioli or cannelloni filling – just fork shred the tender meat, mix through some leftover braising liquid to moisten and stuff your cannelloni shells or fold into your silky pasta dough. Easy and delicious. If you’re not up to filling your pasta, just fork shred the beef, add some liquid as before and toss through some pappadelle pasta for a lovely ragu style sauce. Topped with some shaved pecorino (a hard goat’s cheese similar in style to Parmesan) it’s definitely a winner for entertaining guests or just enjoying at home.

The accompanying salad was inspired by some very delicious cauliflower combinations I have discovered in cafe’s and health food shops recently. I must admit cauliflower was a vegetable I studiously avoided for much of my adult life. As a child I absolutely hated it. No matter if mum tried to dress it up with creamy sauce and golden melted cheese – underneath was still the dreaded cauliflower florets. What I realised was I really don’t like boiled cauliflower unless it is then pureed into a soup. I tried cauliflower as an adult again in said salads and found myself really enjoying it. It was because the cauliflower was only lightly cooked and still had some crunch. Then I discovered roast cauliflower. Now we were talking. I didn’t assume this could be done – roast a vegetable that is usally steamed or boiled?! But you can and let me assure you, it is delicious.

You can coat the florets with some olive oil and salt and pepper to ensure a nice even golden colour and if you like a bit of spice, add some chilli powder to the salt blend before sprinkling on. The cauliflower takes about 30 mins at 170 degrees to cook to a tender but still firm texture. I popped some baby tomatoes I had rolling around the fridge in and a salad was born.

Don’t be afraid to mix and match salad ingredients to suit your tastebuds either. I added chickpeas, spinach, coriander and flaked almonds to the mix. The dressing? A lovely avocado dressing I found in the local fruit shop – something a bit different to the usual but you could easily whisk up some orange juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil and seasoning for this combo.The dressing just caught my eye so I decided to go with it!

Feel free to experiment and let me know how you you went with your own recipe variations and happy cooking!

 

 

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A picture is worth a thousand bites

Food photography. It can be a love hate sort of deal. Why are people taking photos of their meal? is a common refrain.

As a chef, a photo of a meal can serve a multitude of purposes – as an example of how you’d like your meal plated so those replicating know exactly what goes where; it can be a testament or bragging rights to your skill i.e. look at what I made and how beautiful it is, or just a record of those moments throughout your culinary career and the plating trends of the moment.

As a diner, a photo of your meal is a moment in time. A first date, an anniversary or a birthday.  Or just because. And the meal was really pretty.

As a blogger if can be a mixture of desires – please enjoy my food and join me in my memories, my daily life and my creativity.

Here are some of my favourite images from the blog:

Food is such a party of our day to day life. For some, a chore, others a delight, whereas for some it doesn’t matter either way. Long before cameras though, food was recorded as still lives in their own right or as props in paintings. They showed us how people of that time ate, what was popular and which people and their status and standing in society could afford to eat. The first social media share of your meal would’ve been an art display or gallery. Think about it 😉

When I read a recipe for inspiration I look not at the ingredients but to the photo’s. It’s like a fashion magazine – an outfit without much hanger appeal suddenly comes to life on a real person in an everyday or even exotic setting. Get the ingredients right and show them to the world and suddenly you’re intrigued. Excited even. Perhaps surreptitiously wiping the drool off the photo page.

Here are some of my fav pics off pinterest that I use as inspiration:

Food photograph is an invitation to an experience. Setting the scene, creating a moment invites you to create your own culinary moments. If you are going to make a cake, why not enjoy all aspects of your creation, from the visual splendor to the wonderful moment your mouth wraps around that spoon and the flavour floods your mouth.

Creating a blog about food and photographing my efforts has changed my experience of creating meals at home. My partner works nights so it is usually dinner for one in this house with his portion left on a plate for later. Not exactly incentive for experimenting and making it look good. But suddenly with an audience I put care in. Sure I could do it just for me but I’m not going to lie. At home I get a little lazy after a day at work. After at least eight hours of putting all my attention into making food look good it get’s a little sloppy when its dinner for one. But put a camera in my hand and suddenly the journey of the ingredients to the plate is something worth putting effort into. Weekly catch ups with family and friends where we swap who cooks dinner and dessert also provides a chance to expand my audience and have some fun.

My favourite photos to take and gaze over though are the ones that tell a story. From ingredient to finished product I love to see the method, the messy bowls, the spoon dug into the dish, the fork wrapped in spaghetti, where I can almost reach my hand into the page and take a bite.

I also love retro food photos that remind me how far food has come. So many chefs love to look back to the 80’s and the gelatinous, brown concoctions that graced the pages of home cookbooks. Sure there were the superstars of the professional kitchens that could elevate these lesser moments of food trends but for the day to day household cooking there were some doozies. But this is the fun of food photo’s. This is itself tells a story of what was happening at the time. What technology we had at hand, what type of utensil people used and the variety of foods available for us.

Some examples of retro (and questionable) food items:

 

Without food photos we couldn’t share in the pure pleasure and delight that is eating something fantastic. Or laugh at the horrible fails. So next time you wonder why on earth someone is taking a photo of their meal just smile and wonder what we will think of these dishes in 10, 20, 5o years time. It may be a head shake like double denim or perhaps it will be remembered as the meal where romance was born or happiness abounded. Either way, I’d want to capture that.

 

 

Undercover Chef Tip – Keeping it Above Board

Wobbly chopping boards – the bane and danger of any kitchen be it household or commercial. Nothing is worse than trying to run your knife over some herbs and the board slips and slides. Or how about when you are trying to dice some meat for a casserole and each slice of the blade sends the board this way and that? Solution -wet a cloth or some paper towel, sit your board on top and chop away! Never risk cutting your fingers again

Shepard’s Pie the chef way

Sous vide. Two simple words that either have you drooling at the thought of luscious proteins or have you going sous what?? Sous vide cooking for clarification is: sous vide

suː ˈviːd/
adjective & adverb
 
  1. 1.
    involving or denoting a method of preserving food by partial cooking followed by vacuum-sealing and chilling.
    “a convection oven can be used in sous vide operations”

Thanks wikipedia! Now we have that clarified (sort of) it essentially entails the slow cooking of proteins in a sealed bag in a water bath of a  maintained temperature not usually exceeding 65 degrees Celsius. Sounds complicated right? it is actually so much simpler than it sounds. I have also heard good things about slow cooking in general and this is sort of another notch up from that. The idea is the low temperature slowly coagulates the proteins and create a soft, unctuous mouth feel as opposed to the quick heat of pan frying or grilling which can toughen proteins if overcooked. My foray into the sous vide method came from Aldi (gotta love it) have a slow cooked/sous vide on sale with a vacuum sealer. Lucky me snatched the last one up on a Wednesday afternoon but I had to order my vac sealer online as these were all gone. Being winter casseroles and stews are always a winner but I have to admit I sometimes feel the meat just kind of cooks and goes a bit, well you know…nothingy. The sauces are always amazing but I just felt the meat could be a bit tastier. So here we were. Me, some diced lamb, a vac sealer and a sous vide. I admit, I had a complete brain fart when sealing the bag…I forgot the whole vacuum part vacuums the contents…including moisture…so a little hint when sealing a bag for any purpose – vacuum when it is just a fillet or protein on it’s own fine – vacuum when you have put a little stock and butter in..not so fine. Just seal. Don’t vacuum. Messy lesson learnt! So now to the fun part. I used diced lamb from a butcher, added some beef stock (not homemade but I have found a range of free range stocks called Momo’s Meal’s which are as true to home made as I have ever seeen), butter, rosemary and garlic and set my temp at 60 degrees for about three hours. The result? Deliciously cooked, soft buttery lamb pieces. Amazing. So how did I turn this into a Shepards pie? Keep reading dear followers and I will reveal how to make Shepard’s Pie the chef way! 😉   IMOK_lamb with blackboard   Shepards Pie (serves four with vegetables on the side or two very hungry people)

Shepard’s Pie the chef way
Recipe Type: Dinner
Prep time: 30 mins
Cook time: 3 hours
Total time: 3 hours 30 mins
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 500g diced lamb
  • 6 cloves garlic (reserve four for roast garlic – see notes)
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 750ml beef stock
  • 2 stalks of rosemary
  • 100ml milk
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 4 potatoes
Instructions
  1. In a vacuum bag place 2 cloves of garlic, lamb, 250ml of beef stock, 2 tbsp butter, salt and pepper
  2. Seal and set at 60 degrees on sous vide for about 3 hours
  3. Remove lamb from bag, strain and keep liquid from bag
  4. In saucepan bring remaining stock to a boil, take out about 3 tbsp and mix into flour to form a paste
  5. Stir paste back into hot liquid and whisk to remove any lumps and thicken
  6. Add juices from bag
  7. Reduce heat and allow sauce to simmer and thicken. Adjust seasoning to taste and cook for about ten minutes over low heat
  8. Whilst sauce is cooking, peel and chop potatoes into cubes. Place in a saucepan and just over with water, salt water
  9. Allow potatoes to come to a simmer and cook until a fork can be pushed through easily
  10. Strain and place in a saucepan with milk and remaining butter. Mash with fork or masher until smooth and hot, add roast garlic
  11. Add lamb pieces back to sauce and allow to simmer for a minute or two
  12. Spoon lamb mix into either individual ramekins or large bowl and top with mashed potato
  13. Cover with foil and grill for two minutes then remove foil to allow to golden under grill
  14. Serve with your favourite green vegetables and enjoy!
Notes
To make roast garlic without having to have the oven on, slice the garlic and simmer in water until just soft. Drain water and add vegetable oil to pan. Cook over gentle heat until golden. A low heat is essential to avoid burning the garlic. The pre-boil allows the garlic to cook before gaining the colour
 

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8 Easy hints and tips for dinner party success – the food!

Following up from my last blog of tips and tricks for dinner party success comes the most important part. The food!

More often than not this is the part that brings the most stress to the host’s planning. What to cook. How will it look. Will there be enough. Will everyone like it. Or will I have blue soup a la Bridget Jones?

Fear not though, I have compiled a simple list of eight tricks and tips that will have you trotting out the good china and stemware in no time!

1. Cook what you know

Now this may seem like it defeats the purpose of a dinner party when you bring out a new recipe and claim ‘ oh this? it’s just something I whipped up’. Yes we may all long for those moments but if you are a newbie to the dinner party scene, it’s best to start simple and build your way up. A chef doesn’t suddenly know how to make a twice cooked cheese souffle. They learn how to make a roux, a bechamel, how eggs work and then, then they learn the souffle.

In the world of “here’s one I prepared earlier’ it is easy to become disillusioned with cooking at home and making food you love. The best tip I learnt from my first head chef was to ‘cook what you know’. I used to do a lot of cooking competitions as an apprentice and they were about as stressful as a dinner party can get.

My head chef was adamant though that I chose menu items I knew from the restaurant or family favourites and he would help me take them to the competition level with either a bit more sophisticated plating (more time in a competition vs restaurant service) or more sophisticated ingredients if it was a family recipe. This meant going into the competition I knew what I was doing, how long it would take and having practiced, what may go wrong and how to fix it. Now you are not going for medal with a dinner party but you still don’t want to spend time making food for it to be a bit average because it took a wrong turn.

imok_confused.jpg

2. Keep it simple but take it up a notch

Simple doesn’t have to be boring. Sometimes the most complicated looking foods are actually a series of quite simple steps put together elegantly. Many a time I  have looked at a recipe book and thought, ‘how on earth do you make that?’ to be pleasantly surprised when I have read the methods and thought “I can do that, and that and that’, it’s just a case of doing many small steps for an elegant meal.

My advice? Hunt down recipes that are foods you make yourself but done a little differently. Sometimes there will be a garnish or method that changes one aspect to go from eh, to wow!

Consider using egg rings to plate risottos and create a neat circle on the plate, experiment with cutting ingredients a little differently to look a little special, instead of mince for a Shepard’s pie consider diced lamb for a little something something. It doesn’t have to be a big effort to make an impression.

Even something as simple as making your own ice cream to go with an apple pie will elevate it up a notch. Also consider making individual portions of an item for more elegant plating. There are so many lovely ramekins, pots and cups just waiting to hold casseroles, puddings and pies for a dinner party twist.

IMOK_panna cotta finished

3. Plan ahead

Planning ahead is a chef must do. Every day there is a list with a rewrite and scribbles and plans. A function on Saturday? On Monday we will chat about what needs to be ordered, what needs to be done a few days before, the day before and on the day. Think we do it all in the hours beforehand? Think again! There are many items that can be prepared in advance without compromising flavours. Curries, casseroles and stews are sometimes better the day before, vegetables can be topped and tailed, meat can be cut, potatoes peeled, pastry made ready to roll, ice-cream churned all in the days before the guests even arrive.

imok_signature-dish.jpg

4. Check portion sizes

Serves Four. Serves Two. Serves Six. All a good guide but who are these serving sizes for? Children, people on a diet, hungry guests? There is nothing worse that thinking you have enough food for everyone and realising that plates are a little sparse. Weighing your protein and sides and allocating a decent amount per person can go a long way to esnuring each guest have a decent amount of food on their plate. I have gone into detail with this Undercover Chef Tip Post about Weighing the Sides

IMOK_weigh the sides

5. Keep it easy on the day

I am aware the reason most people don’t like to host is the feeling you will be in the kitchen more than out with the guests. So how to tackle this problem? Choose dishes that can either be

– plated in advance i.e antipasto platters, salads without dressings

– kept warm in the oven i.e roasts, pies, lasagnas, some puddings

– don’t take long to assemble i.e bruschetta mix can be made ready to spoon onto crusty bread when guests arrive, fish can be pan fried whilst it’s vegetable casserole accompaniment is warming in the oven, a steak bbq whilst the plates of salad are ready in the fridge

The idea is to have as much ready as possible before your guests arrive to ensure you get to enjoy the night as much as they do

If you are wanting to use something like a pork or eye fillet consider pre sealing it so all it needs is a flash in the oven to be plate ready in no time.

Have water already boiling but sitting at a simmer so if you need to cook pasta it is ready to go. –

The more you can have planned ahead the more confident you will feel on the day

IMOK_me and finished lamb

6. How do it look when plated?

I am horribly guilty of this one. I have made a meal, had the idea in my head then gone…hmm…that looks really sad. Nothing is worse than this feeling especially when you have hungry guests waiting.

Again, chefs don’t always go with the first version in their head. Sometimes a colour is off, it needs a different shape, a different burst of flavour or something to make it pop.

How to fix this? Do a test run of sorts. Take your raw ingredients as best you can and try assembling them on the plate to see how it will work. Are the colours exciting or will you need a green herb garnish or some well placed salad leaves? Does the dessert need a puddle of sauce or would a spoon of whipped cream be better? Do the berries need to be cut smaller or are larger pieces ok?

Again, it all comes down to planning and what works for you. Sometimes you will find the dishes you thought would work to serve with don’t really. So you can either borrow new ones, buy some or change up how you present the meal. If you can tackle these questions in advance it can save a lot of heart ache later.

pinacolada icecream

7. Decide if each course will be plated or shared

Share style meals have become more and more popular as hosts have realised that it can take a lot of the stress out of a first time dinner party by creating share style meals that can be put down along a beautifully set table and the guests help themselves.

Of course, plated dining can be an experience in itself but if you are not confident just yet plating up individual meals for 4 or more people start simple and work your way towards this if you choose.

There are so many lovely serving platters and bowls on the market that can be served at the table without detracting from the dinner party vibe. Don’t be afraid to mix and match serving platters for a quirky feel. Match everything if you love it but don’t do a dinner party style for the sake of it, go with what works for you when you have the time to do it and it will feel joyous and fun for everyone.

antipasto

8. Have fun

Having a dinner party is about sharing meals and sharing a space around a table with friends and family. Host a dinner party and have fun and enjoy yourself. It’s not a reality tv competition, everyone is there to enjoy your food and company and enjoy themselves so join in the vibe.

family cooking collage

Love these tips and want to put them into action with a little more help? Send me your ideas and feedback to [email protected] and we can create a fun and easy packages to have you hosting dinner parties in no time.