About a week ago, I found myself heading to Leiths School of Food and Wine (off Askew Road in West London) after work. I had been invited to a cooking and food styling and food photography class there hosted by Microsoft Devices. Ever keen to play with yet another gadget, I accepted the invitation to this blogger event. It turned out to be a fun night!

Phones were lent to us that evening and after the event, the photos taken on them were sent to us. So, all the photos in this post were taken using the Nokia Lumia 1520 (running Windows Phone 8). As you can see, the photos are quite good for having been taken using a phone camera; the only downside I can see to this particular model is its size. It’s massive and I have tiny hands so…cue a lot of fumbling. I was glad for the chance to play around with a Windows phone, however, and can see why lots of people like it.

We started with an introduction by Jessica Mills, who ran us through the dishes we would be cooking that day and who gave us various cooking and styling tips as well. She would also help us with styling the dishes after we had finished cooking them all.

Jessica Mills

We then moved across to the other side of the (gigantic) kitchen where Jenny Dowling then gave us a demonstration on how to prepare a rack of lamb. It was inspiring…so much so that I chose to tackle the lamb myself!

Jenny Dowling

Anyway, we divided up into teams and yes, I did get stuck in with the lamb. My hot teammates were Rosana of Hot % Chilli and Cathia of jingle jungle. While I prepared the lamb, Rosana made the salad starter while Cathia was in charge of the pavlova dessert.

Best End of Lamb

That lamb was a pain to prepare. All that fat had to first be trimmed and then the bones scraped. Scrape, scrape, scrape rasped my knife along the bone. Scrape scrape scrape scrape scrape. After what felt like hours, I had a couple of clean bones, a couple awful looking bones and a bone that was falling off. Brilliant. Jenny took pity on me and helped me clean it all up and I then spread the mustard breadcrumb crust on top and here’s how they finally looked.

Racks, Prepared

By the way, if anyone’s expecting me to prepare this at home, they can dream on; I now fully appreciate everything that a butcher can do.

By the time I had finished with the lamb and the accompanying tomato and mint salsa (there were a lot of tomatoes to chop!), Rosana was already plating her spinach and bacon salad with chilli and mango. Isn’t it gorgeous? Jenny had her think about colours and textures and even the background for the dish. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that this kind of styling is beyond my abilities (and let’s be honest, it’s not fun to eat cold food).

Spinach and Bacon Salad with Red Chilli and Mango

After we all tucked into our salad starters (unstyled for the rest of us), the racks of lamb had already come out of the ovens and were resting, waiting for their turn on the catwalk.

And here’s the love I gave our serving of rack of lamb with mustard and breadcrumbs and tomato and mint salsa. The main thing I really enjoyed about this food styling session? The selection of plates that were laid out for us – wow, I wish I had a cupboard and a budget big enough to house them all! They were beautiful! It was difficult to choose between them when it came to plating.

Rack of Lamb with Mustard and Breadcrumbs and Tomato and Mint Salsa

This plate seemed perfect though when it came to my hasty family-style plating of the rack of lamb to serve our team…and I almost prefer it! This is really how I like to style my food at home, though I appreciate how much work goes into one of those artily styled food photos.

Rack of Lamb with Mustard and Breadcrumbs and Tomato and Mint Salsa

Dessert time! The meringues made by Cathia turned out beautifully! I couldn’t help myself and before I knew it, a meringue had entered my mouth. And they really were wonderful – all crisp on the outside and incredibly chewy on the inside. (And that’s the phone there in the shot below.)

Meringues for Pavlova

Cathia had prepared all the fruit – papaya, pomegranate and passion fruit – and we all had a go at plating up our own dessert. Dollops of cream, scatterings of fruit and we had our masterpieces. My mouth is watering as I write this post!

Pavlova with Mint, Papaya, Pomegranate and Passion Fruit

Pavlova with Passion Fruit

Thank you very much to axicom and Microsoft Devices for the invitation! All my photos from the event (taken with that borrowed Nokia Lumia 1520) can be seen in this Flickr album.

It was with difficulty that I woke up the next morning to first partake of the hotel breakfast and then walk with Jeanne to see Malmo’s farmers market. If you do like markets, this small farmers market is worth the trek (but do check that website for dates).

Breads Raspberry Tarts

Sea Buckthorn Sillapågen

Everything of the season is sold there as well as some very interesting and unique products – I marvelled at squash pickles and raspberry ketchup. I couldn’t resist picking up a jar of elderflower jelly which we’re very much enjoying on crackers at home. I would have loved to buy some of the raw ingredients to cook at home but after this brief introduction to Swedish seasonal produce, we would have the next best thing and learn how to cook with some of them. We met up again with Denise and Jeanne’s husband Nick and walked through Slottsparken to Peter Skogström‘s Mat & Vin Slottsparken (formerly Mat & Vin på Stolpaberga), located right in the centre of the park. You might remember that Peter was the chef who came to visit London for the Swedish Blind Date and I’d had the chance to sample his food. I was pretty excited about this opportunity to learn from him and also happy to see Peter again.

Stolpaberga

Nothing could prepare us for how beautiful the inside of this initially unremarkable building was.

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Ikea could learn a few things from this place! Look at those gorgeous tiles in the kitchen! The place is used for cooking classes, catering and private events but it is open to the public about once a month with themed dinners.

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And it was in this beautiful kitchen that we were to have a cooking class and we would be cooking our three course lunch.

Peter in his Kitchen

All the ingredients with which we’d be cooking were laid out on the counter and they were like a show and tell of what was best of the season in Sweden. Lingonberries. Chanterelles. Venison…from deer that Peter had hunted himself! It promised to be a great class.

Ingredients

Peter handed out recipe sheets and then divided us up into teams before letting us loose in his gorgeous kitchen. Jeanne and her husband Nick would be making the starter of trout and the vanilla ice cream for dessert. While I didn’t see much of how they prepared certain parts of the dishes (we were preoccupied with cooking our own parts!), we watched with great interest as the trout was smoked.

Smoking Trout

Denise and I were going to make the venison main course and the souffles. There was a lot of preparation for the beets and searing of the venison and then, of course, the souffles. Denise set to caramelising the sugar and the lingonberries while I got the egg whites beating and prepared the ramekins. After combining the two parts, we piped the mixture into the buttered and sugared ramekins and tidied up the rims, a little tip from Peter to makes sure nothing would get in the way of our souffles rising. I enjoyed the way Peter taught the class – he had judged that we were somewhat capable in the kitchen and so let us get on with it but give us valuable tips here and there as he watched and helped us work. If there was something we didn’t know how to do, he would demonstrate it and then toss us into the deep end to try!

Preparing Souffles

When every component had been prepared, it was set aside for plating – it was great seeing the results of our efforts collect on the counter.

Ready for Plating

We also received a quick masterclass on plating, with Peter first showing us how he arranged the starter. A slick of puree, toppings that reflected the ingredients in the puree, and finally the fish.

Plating

And here was our starter – the Warm salad of Swedish trout, cauliflower, almond and dill. Oh, the trout was beautiful – just barely cooked through and still slightly translucent in the middle and yet flaking ever so gently. The cauliflower puree was extremely moreish and the nuts and dill were fabulous with it and the fish.

Warm Salad of Swedish Trout, Almond and Dill

We then had a chance to plate up our own main courses. Here’s my go at my Spicy venison steak served with beetroots and chanterelles. The venison just melted in the mouth and was possibly the best venison I’ve ever had. And its slight gaminess went well with the mushrooms and sweet beetroot (surprise, surprise, it wasn’t too bad for this usual detester of beetroot!). Well, of course I’d say it was good as I helped to prepare it!

Spicy Venison Steak served with Beetroots and Chanterelles

After our main courses, Peter slipped our souffles in the oven and we watched, with great relief, while they rose majestically. Our souffles were quickly plated alongside a scoop of vanilla ice cream and there we had our dessert, Souffle of caramelised lingonberries with vanilla ice cream for dessert. It was excellent  – enough said.

Souffle of Caramelised Lingonberries and Vanilla Ice Cream

While he didn’t join us for lunch (he was also preparing other food for a wedding to be held there that night), Peter did join us for coffee and answered all our questions. Of particular interest to me was what other fruit could be used for those gorgeous souffles – Peter suggested raspberries, blueberries, apples, cloudberries. It sounds like almost anything can be used as it would all be first cooked down with the sugar. And maybe the best piece of information we learned that afternoon – those adorable glass ramekins we used? Ikea tealight holders priced at 4 for £1.

Peter Skogström

It was a wonderful experience and I did learn quite a bit, from souffle tips to onion slicing for particular applications. And smoking fish! I need to find a proper covered pan to try that at home (risking filling my kitchen and living room with smoke). Thank you so much, Peter, for the fantastic class and lunch. Alas, though I wished to stay and learn more, I could not as I was being picked up for my next food experience…

You can join a cooking course with Peter too as well as book a seat at their organised dinners – all the events are on the Mat & Vin website (in Swedish but the Google translation is very good). More accessible is Peter’s restaurant Restaurang P2 in Dockplatsen 26 in Malmo.

Last Saturday, I again attended another Trusted Places event at L’Atelier des Chefs on Wigmore Street in central London. We were there to learn to make macarons, those lovely almond biscuits sandwiching a rich filling (not to be confused with the coconut macaroons). Those around me know my predilection for these confections and when I was invited to take part in the class, I jumped at the chance. Niamh from Trusted Places again organised this event and the London food bloggers in attendance (lovely meeting you all!) were:

L'Atelier des Chefs

Upon arrival at the shop, we were ushered downstairs by the friendly Jerome, who then directed us first to the cloakroom and second to the bathroom to wash our hands. Drinks (soft) had also been laid out for us, reminding us that it was as much a social event as a class. When we’d all arrived and had the opportunity to introduce ourselves to each other, we were then taken to the kitchen, adorned with disposable plastic aprons and distributed amongst the four work tables. Each table was to tackle a separate macaron flavour, one of:

  • salted butter caramel
  • porto and foie gras mousse
  • raspberry and rose
  • lime and fresh ginger

My team consisted of Helen, Mark, Tom and myself and we were making salted caramel macarons – I’ll admit that these are my favourite flavour from Ladurée and so I was particularly thrilled!

For each step in the macaron making process, our teacher, Baldwin, would demonstrate to all of us at one table before having us retreat back to our own table to try to mimic him. First step was to sift both the ground almonds and the icing sugar – you don’t want big lumps making your macarons ugly. While that was going on, the egg whites were whipped up (along with food colouring if required) to a stiff peak stage with granulated sugar. Baldwin was always moving from table to table, ready to answer our many questions and to give us a hand when needed. He must have the patience of a saint as we were quite a rowdy bunch, running around the kitchen with our cameras!

Plain Meringue

Mixing the almond and sugar mixture into the egg whites was quite a challenge, trying to get the combination to look like what Baldwin had accomplished. A lot of the air is stirred out of the egg whites and the mixture acquires the texture of gooey marshmallow. This was then piped onto parchment paper lined baking trays. The fun part was removing the air bubbles from the piped macarons – we dropped the trays from about 1.5 feet in the air, leading to much loud banging around the room! Afterwards, the macarons had to dry for about 1/2 an hour; only when they were dry to the touch would they be baked.

Piping

Meanwhile, the fillings were made. For the salted caramel, granulated sugar was first left to caramelise in a heavy pan before a huge wodge of butter was added and left to melt. This caused the sugar to harden but then the addition of heavy cream and some salt and the bringing of everything back to the boil pulled everything back together again.

Salted Caramel

An aside: The trickiness of making macarons is well documented online and was shown in the first batch of our biscuits from the oven. They were flat, cracked and altogether hideous. Luckily, the other three trays we produced came out fine! Baldwin suggested that there could have been a number of causes: the batter wasn’t at the right consistency, the air bubbles not banged out enough, the oven at the wrong temperature, wicked goblin magic, etc. I suppose it’s all practice, practice, practice, and a bit of luck too. We chose to dispose of the evidence.

Out of the Oven

After baking, again the macarons had to rest and cool on the trays for another 1/2 hour (you can see what a time consuming process this is!) and when they were finally ready, they were peeled from the paper and filled. Check them out!

Salted Caramel Macarons

A Filled Macaron

And from the other teams, the porto and foie gras mousse macarons (sooooo rich I couldn’t eat more than one),

Foie Gras and Porto Macarons

the raspberry and rose macarons (very nice, and they made cute little penny sized ones too!),

Raspberry and Rose Macarons

and the lime and fresh ginger macarons (the last I tried and I was glad that they were zingy and refreshing).

Inside a Lime and Ginger Macaron

Needless to say, after indulging in quite a few macarons, I was fully macaroned out. There were loads extra and they kindly packed them up for us to take home. As I couldn’t look at them a second time, Blai gladly ate them all that night! At the time of writing this post, I can think of them again and am seriously considering baking them at home! They aren’t as light as the amazing macarons from Ladurée or Pierre Hermé but are still so tasty and much much lighter on the wallet!

Regarding L’Atelier des Chefs itself, they offer a number of short classes (30 mins to 2 hours) where you learn to make one or a few dishes in the alloted time – there’s time afterwards to relax and eat your creation and sometimes dessert is included! The lunchtime classes are inconvenient for me (I work far from Wigmore Street) but I’ll definitely be back for that shop at L’Atelier, as they stock such wonderful things (no time for a full browse but that’s for next time!). Classes can be booked by whole parties and menus can be tailored to your event – there was a hen party learning to make some grilled fish with mango salsa right after our class. What a lovely place – I had a terrific afternoon!

All my photos from this event can be found in this Flickr photo set.

L’Atelier des Chefs
19 Wigmore Street
London W1U 1PH