Come to Dinner Lab- USA!

DJ ParkIf you want the excitement of a pop-up restaurant that surprises you with new and exciting flavors (and whose location is kept secret until 24 hours ahead of time), then come to Dinner Lab! Dinner Lab is a concept that began in 2011 in New Orleans and has now spread to 30 other U.S. cities. It describes itself as a nomadic dining experience whose motto is new ideas. rotating chefs. unique spaces.

The dinners are held in unique spaces that exist for only 24 hours and chefs are selected to bring forth a delicious and adventurous menu. I was recently a guest of Dinner Lab, held at the Moniker Warehouse in San Diego’s East Village. DJ Park was the featured chef whose credentials include former stints at L.A. restaurants Okasha and The Fare Life. Chef Parker’s menu had a loose Thanksgiving theme and featured a variety of charred dishes and beer-based sauces (Sam Adams sponsored an open bar at the event). During the evening, Parker introduced his guests to some new taste adventures and definitely woke up some previously bored palettes with dishes such as Duck Carnitas.

The evening started off with the lovely event manager Samantha Saad, who rang a bell and welcomed everyone to Dinner Lab.

SaadNext, Chef DJ Park said a few words to the guests about his menu concept Friendsgiving, of bringing people together around the dinner table. He explained that the first Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving dinner in 1621 probably featured some seafood which influenced his Surf and Turf offering on the menu.

DJ ParkerAll guests were seated together at communal dining tables and were presented with five different courses throughout the evening, each course matched with an appropriate glass of Samuel Adams beer. All dishes were served on paper plates or bowls in order to keep things moving; the emphasis was more on taste rather than on beautiful plating of food.

Appetizer:  Pickled and Charred Crudité

The first course was Pickled and Charred Crudité, an appetizer of raw pickled vegetables dipped in a delicious beer-based sauce. The vegetables were dominated by purple cauliflower, which I had never eaten before, but tasted similar to the white variety. The sauce was a base of crème fraiche flavored with Sam Adams Winter Lager and seasoned with olive powder, a mixture made from dehydrated olives. Although I wasn’t exactly ‘wowed’ by this dish, I was certainly intrigued, thinking “what other interesting things does Chef DJ Park have in store for us this evening?”

Corn Porridge

The second course, Corn Porridge, extended the chef’s theme of charred vegetables, accenting the porridge with ember charred corn and toasted walnuts. I found the charred corn kernels to be a bit too brittle for my taste, but loved the leek ash butter which fused nicely with the porridge.

Roasted Vegetable Stuffing

Roasted Vegetable Stuffing was next up on the list, featuring croissant stuffing, oyster mushrooms and Sam Adams ‘Thirteenth Hour’ stout gravy. It’s not easy presenting a ‘stand alone’ vegetable stuffing, but the chef didn’t disappoint here, marrying the rich taste of the croissants with the meaty oyster mushrooms.

As the evening wore on, my anticipation for the main course reached a crescendo: would the chef trot out the usual turkey offerings or would we be graced with something new? 

Surf and Turf

Answer: we got something new! Surf and Turf, consisting of Duck carnitas, pork belly, charred lobster and seared sole. This dish was definitely the star of the show- the duck was tender and flaky and the pork belly- well let’s just say that I could go for seconds! The pickled berries offered a nice contrast to the savory duck and pork belly, however I felt that the seared sole lacked texture and could have been eliminated from the dish.

A delightful finish for the evening was Rustic Apple Tart– a dish that was small in size but big on taste. Toasted walnuts, cinnamon cream and apple butter, ‘Bravo’ to Chef DG Park!

Apple Tart

If you’d like to try a new dining adventure, come along to Dinner Lab! You can book a ticket for their events through their website  https://dinnerlab.com/ All tickets include cost of the food, tips, tax and unlimited access to the bar.

Disclosure: I was a guest of Dinner Lab; however all opinions are my own. Continue reading

Chocolate Easter Eggs with Caramel Filling

 Egg Open

Chocolate Easter Eggs with Caramel Filling – easy to make and even easier to eat!

As a child, I used to love having Easter egg hunts. My Dad would go out and hide the eggs on the front lawn area while us children would wait inside the house. No preliminary peeking was allowed, lest we find out ahead of time where the precious eggs were hidden.

We often dyed our own eggs – first hard boiling them, then dipping them in various dyes. Once, I bit into one of my prize eggs and found it to be quite runny- obviously we hadn’t perfected our egg-dying technique yet. Sometimes, while pottering in the garden, we would find an egg a year later that had been missed – we wouldn’t dare eat it but it was still fun finding the odd egg or two that had been neglected for such a long time.

As an adult, I grew away from Easter eggs but then came back to them when our two children were young. They, too, loved Easter egg hunts and receiving baskets filled with the decorative eggs. Unbeknownst to them, I would sometimes raid their Easter baskets, heading right for the chocolate ones. But I was so disappointed when I bit into a  hollow chocolate egg. “Where is the caramel filling? Where is the crunchy hazelnut filling?” I would cry.

So, this recipe is dedicated to those who love chocolate Easter eggs, not the boring hollow kind, but those that have those wonderful, creamy fillings.

Summary of the Steps (see detailed recipe below)

  •  First, melt the chocolate either in the microwave oven or by placing a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Then pour the chocolate into the egg mold, filling it about 1/3 full. (I used three different kinds of chocolate – dark, milk and also white chocolate). Spread a thin layer of chocolate around the mold using the back of a small spoon.

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  •  Place the molds in the fridge to set – only takes several minutes. Then gently remove the chocolate by pushing the chocolate upward from underneath the mold – should lift out easily without having to use a knife.

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  • Next, prepare the caramel filling, then let cool. Now pour the filling into each egg half, filling about 3/4 full.

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  • Close the two egg halves together. In order to close up the seam between the two halves, rub some melted chocolate along the seam, using your finger. You are now ready to enjoy your caramel-filled chocolate egg!

P.S. If you enjoyed this post, please do ‘like’ my G’day Souffle’ Facebook page!

Egg Blog re-sized

5.0 from 2 reviews
Chocolate Easter Eggs with Caramel Filling
 
Chocolate Easter eggs filled with a salted-caramel sauce - you won't be bored!
Ingredients
  • 250 g chocolate
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • ⅓ cup water
  • ¼ cup thickened cream
  • ¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter, cubed
  • ½ tsp salt
Instructions
  1. Melt the chocolate pieces in a plastic bowl placed over a pan of simmering water. Alternatively, you can melt the chocolate in a microwave oven (low setting).
  2. Pour the chocolate into each mold, filling it to about ⅓ full. Spread the chocolate around the inside of each mold, using the back of a small spoon. Set in the fridge for several minutes until set.
  3. Gently remove the chocolate from each mold by pushing the chocolate up from underneath the mold.
  4. Prepare the caramel filling:
  5. Combine the sugar and water together in a saucepan. Stir over high heat until the mixture boils, then lower heat and stir until the mixture starts to turn brown.
  6. Add the butter cubes a little at a time, stirring frequently until the sauce starts to thicken. Be careful that the mixture does not boil or the butter will 'split.'
  7. As the sauce thickens, gradually add the cream and the salt. Continue to stir for several more minutes until the sauce continues to thicken.
  8. Remove from heat to cool then place in fridge for several hours until sauce thickens even more.
  9. Remove from fridge and fill each chocolate egg half with the caramel sauce.
  10. Press the two halves together. To close the seam, rub a little melted chocolate over it, using your finger.

 

Winner of the Cuisinart Mandoline Giveaway !

Sweet rosie photo

Thank you, everyone, who participated in my recent Giveaway draw for the Cuisinart Mandoline slicer. Angela Montgomery from Adelaide, South Australia, is the lucky winner.

Angela blogs as Sweetrosie (http://sweetrosie.wordpress.com). She obviously knows her stuff because she is a chef by trade and is also a graduate of the Le Cordon Bleu/University of Adelaide Master of Arts Gastronomy program.

Besides describing herself as both a gastronomist and a food anthropologist, she also bakes the most fantastic cupcakes; just take a look at these photos!

sweetrosie 2

Sweetrosie cupcakes

Congratulations, Angela!

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Life at the Cordon Bleu School- Paris

Chef Stril Sausages

Chef Bruno Stril preparing sausages at the Cordon Bleu School- Paris

People often ask me what it was like studying cuisine at the Cordon Bleu School in Paris. When people think of the Cordon Bleu they conjure up images of students being taught by world-famous chefs and whipping up fancy dishes as they loll about in a perfect culinary utopia.

Some of these images are accurate, but in reality studying at this school can be bloody hard work, working at a frantic pace in a hot kitchen under the watchful (and sometimes grouchy) eye of the supervising chef. Even now, a year later, I still wake up in the middle of the night hearing the words Allez, Allez! or Vite, Vite! as I dream of the French chef waving a spatula in exasperation. But, then again, I loved the experience and will do it all again in 2014 when I return for the 10-week ‘Superior’ course. Here are some basic FAQ and answers:

(Also, see my post on Surviving the Le Cordon Bleu Superior Exam).

Where is the Cordon Bleu School located and what are the facilities like?

The school is located in the 15th District (arrondissement) on the Left Bank in a residential area. The building has 4 stories and used to be a medical supplies building. The quarters can be a bit cramped, particularly in the locker rooms. You have to be careful when bending over to tie your shoes in the locker room, or you might have an ‘eye-to-rump’ encounter with your neighbor.

LCB Building

                                   Le Cordon Bleu school in Paris

I rented an apartment in the Latin Quarter (5th District) close to the quaint rue Mouffetard. I used to take a Metro train to the school and sometimes musicians would come onto the trains and play, in hope you would throw a euro or two their way. One of these men once saw that I was holding a large cake on my lap as I rode the train home. He stopped and asked me in French if he could have the cake and I said Non!

The kitchens where we did our practice cooking were rather small- just room enough for 10 students maximum. The ceilings were low and the kitchens could get quite hot- I’ve seen much larger kitchens being used for high school ‘home economics’ classes in Australia and the USA.

Practical Kitchen at LCB

Practical Kitchen at LCB

What is the class routine like at the school?

The day would start out with a 2.5 hour Demonstration Class where the chef would demonstrate three courses in French: an entré, main course and dessert. A translator stood next to the chef and translated each step, which included everything from filleting fish, dicing vegetables, cooking lobsters live and making homemade ice creams. Sometimes it was difficult to follow everything because the chef would sometimes jump from one dish to another and then back again, plus the French language sometimes made it très díficile!

This was then followed by a 2.5 hour practical class, where we split up into the individual kitchens and practiced what we learned. Sometimes these ‘practicals’ were held the next day, so we had time to practice some of the techniques before then. I think I was one of the few students who actually practiced making the dish before the practical class, so I would have more confidence!

At the end of the 2.5 hour practical class, we presented our food to the chef to be graded.

Chef Lesourd with translator

Translator getting ready for the Demonstration Class

What sort of techniques and dishes did you learn at the Cordon Bleu School?

In the Basic Class, we learned how to make delicious soups like Crab Bisque, using real live crabs, and Cauliflower Soup (Crème Dubarry):

Crab Bisque

Crab Bisque

 

Cream of Cauliflower Soup

Cream of Cauliflower Soup

We also learned how to fillet fish, including a trout while leaving the head and tail in tact: 

Filleted Trout with head and tail

Filleted Trout with head and tail in tact

However, we were all excited waiting for the chance to make ‘Lobster American’ (Homard à l’américaine). This dish was seen in the movie ‘Julie and Julia’ with Meryl Streep and involves first preparing the lobster; tying a string from the lobster’s head to the tail to keep it straight while being dropped live into boiling water.

 Live Lobster before cooked

Lobster being prepared for a dip in boiling water

 Lobster American

And now for the finished product:  Homard à l’américaine

Pastry is ‘King’ at Le Cordon Bleu so we learned to make pastry dough by first placing all the ingredients on the marble surface, forming a ball and then pushing the dough along the marble with the palm of your hand. This technique is called fraiser la pâte

pate-brisee-9[1]

After forming the dough, we made Guinea Fowl Pie which was delicious!

Guinea Fowl Pie

In Intermediate Cuisine, we learned recipes from different regions of France. Rabbit dishes are frequently found in the Loire Valley, so we learned how to completely de-bone a rabbit and then stuff it with a tasty prune stuffing. De-boning a rabbit is not easy- you have to completely remove the spine and there are lots of ‘fiddly bits’, but it was well worth it!

Rabbit De-boned

        A Completely De-boned rabbit-  spine located on the right

Rabbit stuffed with prunes

         Rabbit Stuffed with Prunes; Potatoes Filled with Cheese

Just one more advantage of attending the Cordon Bleu school. Every time the pastry students make cakes or desserts, they place their goodies out on a table in the ‘Winter Garden’ sitting area and you can come by and eat what you want. I have even been known to take an entire cake home with me!

LCB Cakes

So, now I have a whole year to get ready for the 10-week Superior Cuisine course in June 2014. Wish me luck and I’ll keep you posted!

Fran at Int Graduation

Me receiving the Intermediate Certificate at Le Cordon Bleu in 2012