27 August 2012

SRKitchen on tour - French onion soup, beef cheeks and strawberry mousse

Join me while I give you my account of how I prepare to take The Self-Raising Kitchen 'on tour' and cook for a party of seven.

A work colleague turned awesome friend Tracy (@gadgetgirltracy) and her rockin' partner Angela (@nerfenstein), saw my previous SRKitchen 'on tour' post and wanted to know how to get in on the action. You see the rules are simple, you pay for the ingredients, I cook for you and a group friends/family/other(?) of your choosing in your house. Easy!

Once a date was set (or a second date in our case) planning started and I was looking forward to a cooking tour to the Gold Coast.

Wednesday, 22 August
I complete menu discussions with Tracy and we decide on:

French onion soup with gruyère bread
Slow cooked beef cheeks with soft polenta and greens
Strawberry mousse with Persian fairy floss (ok, she didn't know about the fairy floss)

Friday, 24 August
5.00pm: The official work week has finished so it's time to get my cook's hat on. I'm off to search for Persian fairy floss and ingredients for the strawberry mousse so I can make it first think in the morning.

Thanks to the awesome world of twitter (@TIFFINbitesized @nataschamirosch @Fridayology @digellabakes @thewordonfood @trisharoe1) I found lots of places in Brisbane selling Persian Fairy Floss. I purchased mine at Greenslopes IGA. The other suggestions were: Rosalie markets, Black Pearl Epicure, Zone Fresh at Windsor, Delicatezza at Michelton and Sourced Grocer at Teneriffe. I'm sure there are plenty more.

THE DAY Saturday, 25 August
8.45am: Coffee is made. Thanks, beloved. An essential element to the day.

9.00am: Strawberries being pureed and the mousse making has started.

Strawberries, lemon juice and sugar blitzed in the food processor

9.30am: Mousse completed and in the fridge to set.

Strawberry mousse ready to set in the fridge. If you are looking
for this recipe I used this one from the Easy French Food blog.
Would I use it again? I most certainly would.

9.50am: Time to make my shopping list.

You see this was one of my more calmer and saner meal plans so I was pretty relaxed about getting everything done, even though I had to drive to the Gold Coast (although it is only 40 mins from my house). 

10.20am: I'm in the car and off to my local fruit shop, butcher and supermarket.

11.20am: DISASTER has struck! My butcher has 12 beef cheeks (which is enough for about 3 'on tour' meals) but they are FROZEN. I will not use the microwave to defrost as it ruins the quality and taste of the meat, in my opinion. So it is time for a luke warm bath for my cheeky bits of beef.

Got frozen meat and don't want to use the microwave?
Leave the meat in a luke warm tub of water. Keep checking
the water and replacing it if it turns cold.

12.00pm: still waiting, waiting, waiting for my cheeks.

12.14pm: another coffee is made.

12.30pm: Preparing to slice onions in food processor to save my eyes.

There is something about me and onions. We are not friends. I love eating them and using them in my cooking, but when is comes to cutting them I cry like a five year old who just had her ice cream full off the cone and onto the footpath. I can even be sitting in another room of someone cutting onions, crying.

12.50pm: time to pack the car. Beef cheeks have defrosted enough. Woo hoo!

The load heading to the Gold Coast. Please take special note of
the casserole dish in the right corner of this photo and read on.

1.16pm: I'm on the road and hoping like crazy that everything makes it in one piece.

1.59pm: Made it! Now it's time to give hugs and kisses to my two beautiful hosts, get unpacked and get started.

But first, check out my view from the kitchen.

Tracy and Angela have a spectacular house on a canal, Gold Coast.

And my office for the afternoon. Bliss!

Tracy and Angela's beautiful kitchen that I've already managed to mess up.

2.30pm: Cooking needs to start. The beef cheeks need at least 3 hours to cook. I'm planning on entree to be served at 6.30, and mains about 7pm. Therefore I want the beef cheeks in the oven by 4pm at the latest to give me 30 mins gap.

2.55pm: Chopping of onion, garlic, herbs etc done, now to brown meat. CRAP I've left my casserole dish at home. Do you remember in the photo the red dish in the corner of the photo? Yes, well it hasn't moved from that location. Oh well, I have another pot that can go in the oven that will have to do.

3.25pm: beef cheeks are ready for the oven. Perfect timing and I've given myself some great wriggle room if the cheeks aren't tender enough by 6pm.

If you are looking for the beef cheeks recipe I used please go here.

Beef cheeks in stock, red wine and herbs ready for a 3 hour stint in the oven.
Time to start the soup.

There's nothing better than the smell of butter and onions cooking. With this recipe you get to fill your house with this smell for a good 30 minutes while you caramelise the onions for the soup.

Caramelising onions for the delicious French onion soup.

I discovered later in the evening, somewhere around dessert, that one of our guests hates onions. Excellent, and here I am offering onion soup! I was assured that she loved the soup, however.

See below for the recipe to this one by the iconic Delia Smith.

4.00pm: I have enough time to gossip with my hosts.

5.30pm: Time to get serious as the first guest, Tracy's mum, arrives. I need to start prepping the beans and broccoli. I want to get these part cooked in boiling water and then place them in ice water so later on all I need to do is fry them with a little butter to heat them up before serving. I'm also getting the french stick sliced and gruyere cheese grated ready for grilling. These will go in the bowls for the soup.

6.15pm: I check the cheeks and I'm very excited as they are just falling apart, as planned, of course. At this point I leave the pot out of the oven until I serve as it will stay hot for a while. Time to free up the oven so I can grill the cheesy bread for the soup.

6:40pm: All guests have arrived. It's time to plate up the entree.

I pour the soup in a terrine that sits in the middle of the table for people
to help themselves. If they like, they can then easily dig in for seconds.

I give each person a bowl with a grilled gruyere cheese
crouton on top. The soup is then ladled on top ready for devouring.
6.50pm: My guests seem to be happily consuming the soup so I focus my efforts on making the polenta with grated parmesan and butter, and frying off the beans and broccoli.

7:30pm: Mains are ready.

Slow cooked beef cheeks with polenta
Looking back, I would have thickened the gravy the cheeks cooked in. Last time I made this dish I was working with a crap oven that used to suck the life (ie juices) out of everything so was left with very little gravy. However, with Tracy and Angela's awesome oven the cheeks quite happily cooked in plenty of juices. It would have been nice to have this thickened a little with some cornflour. I know for next time.

About 8.30pm: Sorry, I started loosing track of time around this point. Time for dessert.

Strawberry mousse topped with Persian vanilla fairy floss.
The evening for me drew to a close just before 9.30pm. I had the car repacked and had even scored a special gift from Tracy and Angela. They very generously bought me a voucher for an Indian cooking class and a strawberry plant. No doubt you will be hearing about the cooking class soon and getting a few recipes as well.

I had such a wonderful night with my hosts and their family. I love cooking for my own loved ones, but it felt extra special being invited into Tracy and Angela's home to cook for their family when I had never met any of them before.

My seven beautiful guests that allowed me to cook for them.
So to the seven wonderful guests who humoured me on Saturday evening, and sat down to eat a meal from a self-trained cook and person they had never met, I thank you so very much. We had a laugh, some very good belly laughs actually, and that is exactly what family and food should be about.

I love this shot. Great family fun!

French onion soup
By Delia Smith


700g onions, thinly sliced
2 tbls olive oil
50g butter
2 cloves garlic,crushed
½ level teaspoongranulated sugar
1.2 litres good beefstock
275 ml dry white wine
2 tbls Brandy
salt and pepper

To serve:
French bread or baguette, cut into 1 inch (2.5 cm)
Gruyère, grated
In a large thick-based saucepan heat the butter and oiltogether. Add the onions, garlic and sugar, and cook over a low heat, stirringoccasionally, for about 30 minutes or until the bottom of the pan is coveredwith nutty brown, caramelised film. (This browning process improves both thecolour and flavour.)

Next add the stock and white wine, bring to the boil andsimmer, covered, over a low heat for about 1 hour. Season to taste and, if youfeel in need of something extra warming, add 1-2 tablespoons of brandy.

SRKitchen version: When I’m ready to serve I grill the breadwith the grated gruyère in the oven. If you prefer crunchier (and proper)croutons, drizzle olive oil over the bread and bake in a high oven for about 10mins, or until brown.

Place the croutons in each bowl and either you ladle the soupinto each bowl or put it in a lovely terrine and let your guests dig in and serve themselves.


  1. Being a vego I'd give the beef a miss, but would have stuffed myself with your other dishes - yum!! It looks like your guests had a fabulous time :)

  2. Love your account of the evening. It was fantastic and we all absolutely loved every second of it. The food was amazing and it was truly a great family night for us. We all got the chance to chat and to spend quality time together and most of us had seconds. Can't recommend the experience enough. Thank you for your beautiful cooking and wonderful company.

    1. I could have written so much more about the night as I had such a wonderful time. Thank you for having me, Tracy :-)

  3. Right, I have to book you in after this most amazing post. You're awesome! But of course everyone knows that! Son xo

    1. You are a treasure, Son. We must get that date in the diary soon :-)