Christmas Degustation Planning table setting

Its that time again, the Christmas degustation*. The first year we did it we went for 12 courses, the next year this was bumped to 14, and we all know whats better than 14? You guessed it, for Christmas we made a 15 course degustation lunch from scratch. I thought that this time around I would write about the planning stage because the first question that I am always asked is ‘are you insane?’. I choose to believe that this is a question about all the work that goes into cooking that many courses, and not about my general state of mind. Based on that, read on for the work that goes into that level of Christmas cooking insanity.

The first important step when planning a Christmas degustation is to get your family on board. After an excited “hey Mum I’ve got a GREAT idea” email I got the equivalent of a pat on the head back as a reply. Taking this as full acceptance of the Christmas plan I did the only sensible thing and started a Pinterest board. Lets be clear at this stage, I was just pinning things that looked yummy…no great thought went into it.

Christmas Degustation Planning

A bit closer to December I had a Skype with Mum who started asking if we were really going to go through with it. Now just a bit of an FYI – this happens every year and will happen to your loved ones if you attempt the same. Mum was concerned about the time it would take to plan, when we would do all the shopping, and who would cook. Being the good daughter that I am I just changed the subject and said I wanted to get a tattoo. Trust me, the tattoo distraction thing works every time.

Christmas Degustation Planning sword fight

On to December and I walked off the plane and into the welcoming arms of my family. I think the plan was to actually, oh I don’t know, think about this massive Christmas lunch at some point? Distracted by wine, brunch and sunshine it just didn’t happen. So a week before Christmas we had to get our As into G. Putting a bottle of gin just out of reach we vowed not to open it till we had decided about the degustation…motivator in place we set to work. Part Pinterest, part whats in season and part just really wanting that gin we quickly wrote a list of courses and a shopping list.

In terms of actual food prep we again hit a bit of a snag. Originally we planned on a full two days of kitchen cooking before the Christmas day, but then Dad suggested a trip to Waiheke to visit the vineyards. Turns out you can do all the required prep in one day!

One day in the kitchen, with Mum and I enjoying hanging out way too much was all the prep we needed. Next post…the 15 course degustation.

Christmas Degustation Planning and making

 

*The eagle eyed among you may have twigged that I am posting about Christmas in February, my justification for this is that New Zealand normally dosent get the Doctor Who/Downton Abbey/Call the Midwife Christmas specials until about now so I’m giving the UK a taste of its own medicine. Thats my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

This post was in no way sponsored by anyone at all except for my Dad who made me gin and all opinions are my own because its my damn blog and I can write whatever the hell I want. #honestbloggers  

 

 

 

Gin Cocktails with sisters Runawaykiwi
Dinner parties are hard work for the host, not matter how much you like cooking they inevitably mean at least an afternoon in the kitchen before a panic to get ready and look cool calm and collected when your guests arrive. This is doubly the case when your guests are foodies – there is no pressure like it.  My family however have discovered the ultimate dinner party hack; the shared degustation.

Tuna carpaccio with black sesame

We had an early Christmas dinner with our family and my sister’s in laws. We could all definitely be classified as foodies, like make your own muesli and have experimented with foam foodies. Essentially the worst kind of dinner guests all in one family (or soon to be family come the October wedding!). Which is why this dinner party hack is so awesome.

Here’s how it works, each person/couple takes care of one of the courses. If you want a really impressive spread then each person/couple takes two courses. Now remember here the definition of degustation: a series of small plates. This means that all the courses are about the size of a standard appetiser and can be as small as some artfully arranged finger food. You can go really simple or really complex, it totally depends on a) how much time you have to make the food, b) if inspiration has struck.

Home made meat balls

To keep the washing up to a minimum we used the same wooden boards for almost every course with a quick wipe in-between. Side note on the boards, my Dad is all kinds of amazing and he made them himself from a bit of wood he found under our house. Along with spreading the washing up responsibility the degustation also means that every single person there gets a chance to relax and chat, after all if it’s not your course you don’t have to be in the kitchen.

Roast pork with apple

Crusted lamb with kumera mash

Potentially the only downside was the cocktails. Actually I lie, it was an awesome downside… We had my sister making the cocktails, and it took a few tries till she was happy with the result. Not a family to waste food (or gin) we, ah, drank all the test cocktails. I can’t tell you how hard it is to plate up multiple dishes when under the influence of sister.

Thank you so much to Julie and Greg for hosting, and everyone else for cooking. Because the super ultimate dinner party hack? Arrive home after 24 hours of flying and everyone else just feeds you while giving you gin and cuddles.

Baked Alaska

Courses

1. Cheese platter

2. Gin cocktail

3. Tuna carpaccio with black sesame

4. Home made meat balls (my favorite course!!)

 5. Roast pork with crackling and apple

6. Cumin crusted lamb with kumera mash

7. Baked Alaska with sour cherry sauce

 

The Return of Rad an amazing Auckland cafe

I was feeling quite cocky about the London cafe scene. After all our coffee roasters have some of the most impressive beards in the industry and we all know the relationship between beards and coffee:

Beard Length v Coffee
Because of this I wasn’t actually planning to blog much while I was in New Zealand, after all what was the point writing about the poor backward brunch cousin. Queue awkward jaw dropping when my Mum took my jet lagged self to The Return of Rad on my first day in Auckland. First up was that it looked like a cool cafe, so different to the normal Kiwi white plastic table numbers I was expecting.

After sitting down and trying to figure out what time zone my stomach was in, I went for the eggs Benedict and a flat white (of course). Holy crap. Turns out in New Zealand having a ‘good’ brunch is no longer the aim. While in London I am rating eggs Benedict by a home made holindase and perfectly toasted muffins, in New Zealand it’s all about invention.

The Return of Rad Eggs Benedict

It was like going into a Michelin starred restaurant and asking for chicken: you know you will get a beautifully presented plate with unusual but perfectly complimentary flavours. And that’s what I got at Rad. Instead of the standard eggs benne, I got a ham hock and apple delight.

It was sweet and savoury and something I would expect as a main in a Heston restaurant not a cafe in Mt Eden. Forget your boring muffin, the eggs were on a crispy potato gratin, and along with the creamy holindase there was grated apple and melt in your mouth ham that was more akin to a slow cooked pulled pork. Mum had a pretty looking muesli presented in the Kiwi version of a mason jar. It almost goes without saying that the coffee was perfect.

So, turns out I might be blogging a bit on this trip…stay tuned it’s going to be a caffeine fueled ride.

Sweet treats in Paris

Oh I love a good éclair. I mean what other treat would you design an entire day around? Last time I was in Paris I happened upon L’Eclair de génie the most banging éclair shop ever. The éclairs are small compared to what you get in England and seem expensive too (€5 per), but holy hell the flavours are immense.

After taking two metros to get to the St Paul L’Eclair de génie store the first problem was which delicious little jeweled treat to buy. There were about ten different choices and I had to battle with the inner blogger as to if I went with the ones that looked the prettiest or the flavours that I would actually like. No surprise given my capacity for food that the flavours won and I purchased; passion fruit and milk chocolate, raspberry cream, and mascarpone chocolate biscuit. The next problem was where to eat them?

Now last time I was here I made it about 3 meters from the shop before digging in. Hey, don’t judge they are really that good. But because I was only in Paris for a couple of days I wanted something a bit more…French. So I walked, and walked, and walked. I went from St Paul down the riverbank to the Louvre and the Tuilerie gardens. For some unbeknownst reason I decided this vista was not well suited to the flavours of eclairs so I kept on walking.

Shakespeare and Company Paris

I crossed the river and wandered down to Shakespeare and Company, the famous book shop which has served as a base for writers for 96 years (they let writers sleep in the shop in exchange for a few hours work). I couldn’t stay too long getting lost in the books, I was holding three beautiful éclairs after all.

There was only one place that would work; Notre Dame. I wandered across the love locks bridge and found a bench outside the beautiful old beast of a church. People were milling around, pick pockets were asking you to read things and one particularly dumb group of kiwi girls were asking if Notre Dame was the one who predicted the end of the world. #embarrassedtobeakiwi

L'eclair de genie the best eclairs in Paris

I put on my iPod and cranked up a bit of Rudimental and dug into the first éclair. I tried for a while to take a selfie of me eating the first éclair but it is impossible without looking like you are giving someone a blow job – sometimes its hard being a blogger.

The original intention was just to have one now and save the rest for an after dinner treat, but with the setting and the music and the crisp winter air it was just all to perfect to stop at one. So I kept going and polished off all three. I mean, when you are in Paris you just have to do these things right? My favourite by far was the mascarpone which had full chunks of chocolate amongst the cream and endless caramel sauce drizzled along the top. Sigh, can I eat these every day?

Love Locks bridge in Paris

With everything happening in Paris at the moment, I have decided to take a break from my holiday posts…it just didn’t feel right to keep going. So for the moment, here are some London based adventures and we will get back to Paris later.

The Wren London

The London café scene was getting me down, it felt like groundhog day with the same flat white day after day. I don’t know what I wanted exactly but just something…different. Thankfully today I have two cafes for you that fit the bill in their own unique ways. Read about them below and then try for yourself!

1. The Wren – EC4V 4BJ

The Wren coffee London

The Wren is really something special; the high ceilings make it feel like a hallowed space;  a place to worship coffee. Now don’t expect a full brunch at The Wren, its all about the perfectly made coffee and if you are lucky a croissant on the side. I would love to hold an event at the Wren, but in the meantime I will just have to enjoy the calm space perfect for hours of coffee fuelled blogging.

2. Paper and Cup – E2 7JP

Paper and Cup London

Paper and Cup is something that you don’t often find in Shoreditch; a café with a conscience. The café as well as making great coffee is actually a not for profit social enterprise, the baristas are all in recovery for addiction issues. Paper and Cup trains them up, giving them a trade and me a lovely place to enjoy a flat white. Paper and Cup also open every Wednesday night to act as a safe and alchohol-free place for those with addiction problems to hang out. I love a cafe with a heart.