FoodBuzz 24,24,24: Chef for a day, an Ultimate Dinner

table-1web

Here I am again blogging about a Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 dinner. It is my third participation in this event, but things were rather different for me this time. Let me explain: first of all the dinner took place not in my house in Athens, Greece, but in London, England, at my friend R.’s house. He is one of my oldest university friends and was kind enough to sponsor me to fly over to London and cook a special dinner for him and our common friends, something like a little re-union. I saw that as a great opportunity to see what it would be like to shop and cook away from home. Well, shopping would be one thing, but I am used to a very large kitchen and his a a very very small one .

However, the biggest  challenge would be the style of cooking. When I have friends over for dinner, I usually cook a few dishes  from the day before, as most home cooks do However, after a couple of phone calls with R., we narrowed down the menu to a 7 course extravaganza based on recipes by famous Greek and English chefs. The courses would have to be assembled on the spot, restaurant style, and pre-cooking was only applicable to the dessert and to a few bits and pieces. All dishes would be matched with wine and I would be doing  a lot of the shopping at Borough Market. On second thought it all sounded like a crazy idea. Plating on the spot?Shopping without a car for such a complicated dinner of 8? Cooking without my precious gadgets? NO DISHWASHER?

*Sigh*

Did I mention that one of the guests was lactose intolerant, so I would have to make her a lactose-free version of the menu? 🙂

THE MENU

Selection of Antipasti

Caramelized apple slices with foie gras and balsamic glaze (recipe by Dina Nikolaou)

Pepper and tomato soup with crab cocktail (recipe by Gordon Ramsay)

Beef Wellington (recipe by Marcus Wareing)

Fondue of little gem lettuce (recipe by Gordon Ramsay)

Chocolate nougatine with hazelnut praline (recipe by Stelios Parliaros)

Selection of Cheeses


Are you curious to see what happened? If yes, please click below!

borough-market-3

SHOPPING for FOOD

The idea of shopping all the groceries for a 7 course dinner of 8 without a car freaked me out a little bit. I have a back problem and need to be very careful with how much weight I carry, so the only way was to shop online for all the basic stuff (flour, beverages basic groceries, etc.) and leave the important stuff (meat, cheeses, hams, etc.) for the market. And since I seriously believe that Waitrose is one of the best supermarkets on this planet, I shopped online with them from Greece and arranged to receive everything the day of my arrival. They even colour code the bags so you know what is for the cupboards,  what for the fridge and what for the freezer. Now, how cool is that?

For the foie gras I went to Selfridges food hall and bought a lovely bloc de fois. I admit that I did a bit of window shopping on Oxford Str. too, but don’t tell anyone…

borough-market2On Friday I went to the market. And not any market my friends, Borough Market, which is actually more of an open air  delicatessen. No old ladies trying to get a deal on their already cheap tomatoes here. Just 30-something well-off foodies picking up ingredients  for their posh weekend dinner parties.

I was after a variety of cheeses and hams to serve together with some good quality olive oil I had brought from  Greece and bread (that I made myself) as a first course antipasti style which would  welcome the guests.cheese-stall

The variety was endless and being a cheese lover I overdid it a tad and bought about two kilos of cheese which we ended up eating it for breakfast the next day, because everyone was so stuffed they couldn’t even think about cheese after dinner.

jamon2My next quest were the hams. There is a very nice stall with jamon and other types of cured meats from Spain. I bought a 36 month cured jamon from acorn fed pigs and some pork fillet ham with smoked paprika. From the italian stall I chose some 24 month aged prosciutto and a few slices of bresaola. The great thing was that I got to try all of this food  (an extra bonus for me I guess…)!

Now it was time to locate the ingredients for the main dish: meat and mushrooms. Now, coming from a mushrooms2country where fresh wild mushrooms grow only in our wildest dreams (they do actually exist in Greece, but very few people collect them), seeing a specialist shop with so much variety really did my head in. I wanted to buy every single one, but settled with girolles and a type whose name I cannot remember now (the yellow ones behind the girolles).

 

meat-cuttinFinal stop: the meat! In Greece beef is cured for a maximum of 12 days, so when I stumbled across a 28 day cured piece of beef fillet I jumped from joy! The funky looking Italian guy lovingly prepared it for me while I was salivating over the counter. “Don’t cook it too long”, he advised, “or you will ruin it”. I wasn’t planning too, but I had already started to worry whether I would be able to do my ingredients justice.

The WINES of the EVENING

The night of my arrival and after the groceries were delivered we strolled with R. to a fantastic wine shop near his house which is called the Sampler, as it features a unique sampling system with a card. Many of their wines are available for sampling and each sip can set you back from 30 pence to 7.99 pounds depending on the retail price of each wine. We tried loads of interesting bottles and chose the following for the dinner: a Devaux ‘D’  Vintage 1996 champaigne, Domaines Schlumberger 2002 Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Kessler (for the foie gras), Anne Boecklin Pinot Gris 2004 (for the crab), Argiano Brunello di Montalcino 2003 (for the Wellingtons) and H&H 10 year old Malmsey (for the dessert). Tipsy and happy for our choices we returned home to rest. The bottles would arrive on our doorstep the next day…

COOKING and PREPARATIONS

I only had a day and a half to prepare and cook all the food so after the shopping on Friday I frantically started chopping up. I prepared the dessert and the crepes for the Wellingtons, the soup for the first course, washed and chopped the lettuce for the second course. On Saturday morning I prepared the wild mushroom filling for the wellingtons, rolled out the pastry discs because the recipe specified that the pastry should not be too puffy, caramelised the apples for the fois gras dish, assembled the Wellingtons, make the fondue of little gem lettuce and barely had time to have a shower before I started plating the antipasti and the foie gras and getting things ready for the dinner.

I was actually quite surprised with how well the cramped space worked for me, as it made me get more organized and think how to utilize my space better. The washing up was a bit of a bore, but it was also easier than I thought.

The DINNER

salumi1webWhen our friends arrived I was really stressed out and tired, but a couple of glasses of champagne took care of that. The jamon was a dream and I could easily have eaten all of it.

fois5webThe first course, the caramelized apple slices with foie gras and balsamic glaze, was a great success. It really matched the Gewurtztraminer well and there were no left overs.

crab1webThe second course took a while to plate, as I had to use individual rings and remember not to mix up the non-dairy soup with the dairy. Also, taking photos didn’t make things easier! I love crab and had made this before, but I admit that it tastes better when tomatoes are in season. The matching with the Pinot Gris was good, but I thought it went better with the previous wine, the Gewurtztraminer.

wellington1webIn the middle of the second course I had to pop the Wellingtons in the oven. The recipe stated that they needed 12 minutes, but the pastry took 25 to cook and get that lovely golden colour. I was really getting worried that I had totally ruined the meat, but the fillets were nice and rare, but not bloody at all (thanks to the long curing), so even the people who like them well-cooked, ate them happily. The meat was a dream and the earthy Brunello really matched the dish perfectly. Thank God we bought two bottles of that!lettuce2web

 

The fondue was a nice accompaniment to the meat, as the lettuce had a slight bitterness to it.It is an easy and unusual side-dish and I will be making it again.

The final course, the  dessert, was perfect as an end to the meal. I loved the combination of the hazelnut nougat with the Malmsey, which was also nutty and sweet.However, most people opted out of the dessert wine, as they were full (and liked their Brunello too much).

nougatine1web

The VERDICT

We had a fantastic time at the dinner and people lingered on till very very late (some even stayed over), which is a good indication of a successful evening. I think I understand now why all the recipes were for four people and not eight. It is very difficult to cook and serve a dinner of this type alone for so many people, so I don’t think I will be doing it again any time soon.  My advice to anyone who wants to try is to get at least one other person to help with the preparations and the plating of the dishes. At least lovely D. was kind enough to do the washing up afterwards, so I didn’t have to bother with that. Overall,  it was a fantastic experience for me and I would like to thank my friend R. and Foodbuzz for giving me the opportunity to feel like a chef for a day!

To view the recipes simply click on the links below:

Caramelized apple slices with foie gras and balsamic glaze (recipe by Dina Nikolaou)

Pepper and tomato soup with crab cocktail (recipe by Gordon Ramsay)

Beef Wellington (recipe by Marcus Wareing)

Chocolate nougatine with hazelnut praline (recipe by Stelios Parliaros)


18 comments

  1. Now that is a truly amazing meal – absolutely delicious food, paired well with a collection of wonderful wines. Your guests were lucky indeed. And your shopping trip sounds like my idea of dream vacation. Great job, Ioanna!

  2. it’s so pitty i wasn’t one of your guests..:-(
    next time you’ll make a dinner,i’d be delighted to help u but also
    grateful to taste your cooking!

  3. next time you go to london to cook for the winter, you can hire me as your sous chef, or maybe just photographer, but i dont mind lugging your shopping for you, or waitressing while you work your miracles… whatever, this meal was brilliant

  4. Ioanna, you’re very daring to serve up Beef Wellington to the Greek palate. I’m delighted that you found a good source for aged beef…treat the butcher and the meat right. 😉

    Another wonderful dinner, congrats and let’s hope I get to sample one of your banquets this summer.

  5. You are unbelievable Ioanna. What an experience! I also found out what this food buzz is all aboyut, I had seen it before in other blogs too. The caramelized apples with the fois gras looks absolutely delicious. Bravo!

  6. Wow, that does sound like an incredible job you had set yourself! I can do dinner for four but not such a complicated 7-course meal, so kuddos to you for managing that all on your own in someone elses kitchen, no less! I’m utterly impressed. Just found your blog today and really like it!

  7. What a great experience–whisked away to London to cook for good friends! I’m sure it was hectic and stressful, but in hindsight you probably enjoyed it very much. Συγχαρητήρια!

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