Sunday, 21 August 2016

La Cucina Caldesi 'Sunday Farmers Market' Cookery Course

I cannot believe it’s already a  week since I attended the ‘Sunday Farmers Market’ cookery lesson at La Cucina Caldesi.
I was given the lesson as a Christmas gift, through ‘Virgin Experiences’, to enhance my recent interest in Italian cookery.
La Cucina Caldesi is situated at the bottom of Marylebone Lane, London. Owned by Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi the various classes offer hands on Italian cookery with the emphasis being on seasonal Italian food using fresh local produce.  
La Cucina Caldesi, Marylebone
I was rather nervous as I travelled to the school last Sunday morning as I don’t mix well with strangers, and I hate it in these situations where you have to introduce yourself and say something about yourself. Much to my delight there was none of that.
I was first to arrive and was offered a coffee whilst awaiting the others. 13 other people joined me, along with our chef/tutor for the day Stefano and straight away a relaxed atmosphere was achieved.
Stefano was the perfect host/tutor. He worked the room well with his knowledge, skills, conversation, wit and humour.  
The entrance to La Cucina Caldesi
The first part of our day was a visit to Marylebone Farmers Market, which is just a few minutes’ walk from the school. Stefano bought ingredients for our lesson whilst we had 20 minutes to have a walk round and look at all the stalls.
Marylebone Sunday Farmers Market

There were lots of fruit and veg stalls with fresh, and sometimes unusual produce. Everything looked very vibrant.
Marylebone Sunday Farmers Market
Tomatoes at Marylebone Sunday Farmers Market

I was very taken by the appearance of some gluten free savoury muffins, of which I bought 2! I wanted to have a taste as it would be an interesting addition to our cake counter at work. One was filled with squash, goats cheese and sage, and the other tomato, pesto and ricotta.

I saved them both for the following day and am now definitely looking into making some, they were divine!

Homemade produce at Marylebone Sunday Farmers Market

On our return we all donned our ‘Caldesi’ aprons (which we got to keep at the end of the day) and picked a spot around the big square table. Each dish to be prepared was explained in full detail by Stefano.

We were to make bread sticks, tomato bruschetta, stuffed courgette flowers, ceviche, sea bass with roasted potatoes, olives and tomatoes with green beans and aubergine and, for dessert, an amaretto trifle.  

Stefano, chef/tutor at La Cucina Caldesi demonstrating ceviche
It wasn’t possible for us all to make everything so we went in groups of2s and 3s and were given different parts of the meal to prepare. I paired up with a lady called Freddie, and we made the custard for the trifle.  
I think the only criticism I have of the day is that while we made the custard we had to leave the table to use the stove which took us away from everything else being prepared, and a bit out of the group. Freddie had hoped to be able to make bread dough and I had wanted to watch the courgette flowers being prepared.
Prepared, stuffed courgette flowers

Despite not making the bread dough we each were given a piece from the ‘proved’ dough to roll out breadsticks and coat with sesame seeds and nigella seeds.  

Breadsticks ready for the oven

We then got to fillet the sea bass, something I have never done so enjoyed having the chance to learn the skill.

The fish was then laid on top of the roasted potatoes, olives and tomatoes and put in the oven to cook.
Prepared sea bass dish ready for cooking.

All the final parts of the meal were then put together and a long table was laid up for us all.  
Finally we all sat together and enjoyed all the food from the days lesson with red and white wine to accompany the meal.
It was a lovely atmosphere. We had all got on so well right from the start of the day and the room was filled with good conversation and plenty of laughter. Again Stefano was a great host!

Enjoying the end of the Sunday Farmers Market cookery lesson at La Cucina Caldesi

Even though the day was due to end at 3pm I didn’t feel that we were pushed out at all, in fact I think it was about 3.20pm when we all started to say our goodbyes.

What a day! Totally exceeded my expectations, learnt a couple of new skills and had great fun.  

More info on other classes, or indeed this one can be found on the Caldesi website along with info about their restaurants and café.

I would certainly recommend, and am even tempted to try another myself!

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Evergreen Art Cafe - New Job, New Challenge

I arrived for my first day at Evergreen Art Café at 9am on June 1st.

Feels like such a long time ago now!

I was given a desk, a computer, a fresh new A4 pad, a pen and instructions to CREATE MAGIC!

During the following month I googled, scoured Pinterest, sought suppliers, visited food festivals, trialled food dishes, sampled 20 sausage flavours, picked equipment, bought equipment, observed staff and created my first menu!!!
Below is a selection of photos of Evergreen Art Café.  

The new kitchen was finally completed and ready for action on July 14th  
 Friday 29th July was Evergreens 6th birthday so what an ideal date to bring in the new menu. My menu!!!



 The new menu can be viewed here at Evergreen Art Cafe. 
Excited, chuffed, nervous and proud to be continuing my food journey at Evergreen!

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The End Of An Era As The Nook On The Square Closes

I don’t remember the exact date that Kate told me she had decided to close The Nook, though I do remember it was a Wednesday. We sat in the front room at the end of a normal working day and she said ‘there’s no easy way to say this but……..’

I could totally understand her reasons of wanting to spend more time with her small children, I had been in a similar position about 12 years ago.

My first reaction was to rent the café from her until she explained she wanted the building turned back into a family home. Again I understood.

From that day I looked at every possibility for my future. I scoured the job sites, looked at vacant retail properties and even emailed a local, empty B&B with an offer of rent. I was offered a job in a local pub so handed in my notice and, at that point, all the staff were told and then the public.

When the news finally hit Facebook I was surprised to be approached by a local café with an offer of running their newly extended kitchen, which hadn’t, as yet, been installed! It was a good offer, actually a brilliant offer, so I accepted it.

And so begins a new chapter for me.

As of June 1st 2016 I take on my new role as Head Chef at The Evergreen Art Café in Daventry.

More of that to come but for now I say a fond farewell to The Nook, Kate and all the staff I have worked with over the past 20 months. It has been a challenge, a great learning experience and a lovely ‘family’ to belong to.
Staff from The Nook On The Square, Dunchurch, Rugby

Greek Supper Club At The Nook On The Square

Rather Late in posting these photos, don't know exactly what I do with my time at the moment!
April's supper club at The Nook had a Greek theme this time. This was to be my last supper club at The Nook, but I will write more of that in my next post.
Sarah took the decision to decorate in white this time. 

The simplicity of the table worked well with a white napkin and sprig of rosemary teamed with lace and ribbon covered hessian decorated glass jars containing tea lights.

When I first mentioned Greek food straight away someone said 'stuffed vine leaves?'
I can remember my sister and friends sitting at a kitchen table years ago carefully rolling vine leaves, but it wasn't something I had ever tried.
We ordered the leaves from an online company specialising in Greek produce. I googled the process of making the 'Dolmades', as they are called, and set to work making my own.
I had made a tomato rice for the vegetarian main so I decided to use this as the stuffing mix. It would mean I could have a totally vegetarian starter which would make life easier in the kitchen during service.
Depending on the size of the leaf I used 3 or 4 overlapped in a circle and placed some of the rice mix in the center.
I folded the sides in and rolled the rest to form a neat 'cigar' shape.

To cook the Dolmades I lined a baking sheet with greaseproof paper topped with slices of tomato, this prevents the leaves sticking to the bottom and burning. I then packed all my rolled leaves in rows in the top, sprinkling chopped garlic between them.
Sprinkle with lemon juice, add some cold water and cover with oiled foil, so the vine leaves steam cook, and place in the oven for about 45 minutes.

This leads me nicely to our first starter!
As I mentioned earlier it was totally vegetarian and I anticipated it to be ordered by the majority, which it was, leaving the kitchen with a very quick and easy task of serving up.
So our starter was a vegetarian Greek Mezze Plate which showcased a selection of Greek starters.
Dolmades, Grilled Haloumi, Spanakopita (spinach & feta filo parcels), Tzatziki (a garlic & cucumber yoghurt), Roasted Peppers and Olives. What a lovely combination of food!

Our other starter was a Greek salad full of cucumber, tomatoes, onion, olives and feta cheese, all tossed in a dressing made of olive oil, lemon juice and oregano. 

Our mains began with Lamb Shank Kleftico with potatoes and vegetables.
Kleftico refers to lamb being marinated in lemon, garlic and herbs then cooked in a sealed container.

Next came Salmon Fillet and Avocado Tzatziki served with a warm potato salad containing capers, feta, onion and lemon juice. 

Not the best presentation on this one now I look at the photo again but the taste was lovely.
Our vegetarian main was Feta and Mushroom Balls served with rice stuffed tomatoes and Saltsa Domatas, a Greek tomato sauce.
I loved the flavours in this, it was my favourite dish, especially the tomato rice.

And for dessert, again the photos don't do the food justice, Ekmek Kataifi, which was strands of Kataifi pastry topped with syrup, custard cream, pistachios and almonds.
I've written about the dessert in this separate post showing the different stages of making it. Lovely desserts with many different textures. 

And finally Melopita, a honey pie, similar to egg custard.
I loved this too and I didn't think I would.

Again we had some many customers that we spread the event over 2 nights and did 65 covers overall.
Feedback was great and once again 2 very successful evenings.
Ideas and recipes for the above dishes and more can be found on my pinterest board  Greek Night April

Monday, 23 May 2016

Ekmek Kataifi - A Greek Dessert

Leading up to my post for our Greek themed monthly supper club at The Nook I thought I would post a few 'action' shots taken whilst preparing one of the desserts, Ekmek Kataifi.

Kataifi is a traditional sweet Greek pastry often covered with a sweet syrup, or honey, and nuts.
Kataifi pastry is very finely shredded filo, which is made from wheat and water. I didn't attempt to make this myself but ordered it online from a Greek food supplier.  

To make this dessert I gently pulled the strands apart and covered the base of a well buttered baking dish. More melted butter was poured over the top before baking in the oven for about 20/30 minutes until golden.
One of our customers in the evening asked if the base of the dessert was made from shredded wheat as it resembled the taste and texture of the breakfast cereal.

Whilst the pastry was baking I made a syrup by boiling honey, sugar, water, lemon zest, cinnamon and cloves in a pan for about 10 minutes.
When the pastry came out of the oven, and was slightly cooled, I poured the syrup over the top and then covered with chopped almonds and pistachios.  

I whisked up some custard, green food colouring, and whipping cream and spread over the top of the nuts. Then to make this dessert totally calorific I whisked more cream with icing sugar until thick and piped on top of the custard.

A few more chopped pistachios on top and left to chill in the fridge until ready for service. 

I often hear TV chefs go on about dishes having different textures as well as taste and this dessert definitely has that. The crisp pastry, with the smooth cream and hard nuts worked brilliantly.
Definitely a success.
Take a look at my post on The Greek Supper Club for more ideas on hosting a Greek food event.
The full recipe for this dish can be found on my pinterest board
here along with all my other Greek scrapbooking ideas.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Mexican Supper Club at The Nook

Little bit late posting but March's supper club at The Nook held a Mexican theme this time.
So many customers wanted to take part that we decided to host 2 evenings this time!

Sarah, as always, in charge of decorations, went with festival colours for the napkins and table runners. I think it looks really colourful.

I can't decide whether I prefer the back room....... 

Or the front room.
What's your favourite?

Sticking with the same colour Kate produced a vibrantly coloured menu design. 
So for starters we had......
Ceviche With Shrimp.
Crushed avocado base topped with a shrimp, tomato, onion and coriander mix.  
This was definitely a best seller on both nights. 

Beef Empanada filled with a fragrant beef mix and served with soured cream.

Spring Taco With Mushrooms & Tomato Salsa.
This was our vegetarian choice and very tasty indeed.

And for the Mains........
No Mexican evening would be right without a good chilli, and we definitely produced a great chilli!
Chunky beef shin chilli served with avocado, sweet potato, homemade tortilla, sour cream and salsa.
I love the presentation of this dish, definitely one of my favourites.
We also offered a vegetable chilli option.
Our other vegetarian  dish was a roasted butternut squash filled with a Tex Mex rice mix. Lots of herbs and flavours and mixed corn and beans made this a really tasty meal.

For a slightly different fish dish....
Tuna Steak with Red Pepper & Pineapple Salsa served on a bed of Coriander Lime Rice. 

And for Dessert.......
Chocolate and Chilli Cheesecake.
A gorgeous creamy dessert with a warm chilli glow.

Cherry & Almond Chimichangas.
A tortilla filled with cherries and syrup then rolled and panfried in LOTS of butter and topped with more cherries and almonds.

Yet another successful evening or should I say 2 evenings!!!!
I'll be back with April's Greek Night very soon!
Thanks for popping by. 
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