Archive for December, 2010

It was my brother’s turn to host Christmas this year and with his first baby due at any moment it could have been an interesting one. As it happened the bump was quite content to stay tucked up and pig out with us so we managed to finish Christmas dinner without a trip to the maternity ward!

My family aren’t turkey fans so it’s quite normal to see a duck, goose or a ham on our festive table. My brother had decided he’d like to do something even more unusual this year and thought a Spanish-themed meal would do the trick. With a helping hand from a glass or two of Prosecco and his little sis, and the loan of mum and dad’s kitchen and dining room he pulled off a brilliant Christmas dinner.

Unfortunately we were all too eager to tuck in to dinner that we completely forgot to take any photos so you’ll have to take my word for it that it all looked, as well as tasted, amazing.

We started with raciones of albondigas (meatballs in tomato sauce), gambas al ajillo or gambas al pil pil as they’re sometimes known (prawns with garlic and chilli), pinchitos morunos (pork kebabs) and patatas bravas (fried potatoes in spicy tomato sauce).

My brother was hoping to have done too much so he could savour the leftovers on Boxing Day but more fool him for not having hidden any away before serving. All bowls and plates were well and truly wiped (though not quite licked) clean!

Now, I said my brother had a helping hand from his little sis. That comprised of shopping for and cooking the main course! To continue his Spanish theme I opted for slow roasted belly pork with a smoked paprika rub, roasted smoked garlic, and chorizo and black pudding stuffing.

Not wanting to stray too far from the traditional, I served the pork with roast potatoes (roasted in goose fat of course!), roasted carrots and parsnips with thyme and garlic and shredded spouts with bacon, garlic and rosemary. 

I handed the stove back to my brother for his trio of desserts! Christmas pudding for dad (the only one who’ll eat it!), and for the rest of us a choice of Christmas spiced apple crumble or an old family favourite,  chocolate puddle pudding. I have no problem taking credit for bringing the English classic back in line with the Spanish theme with the addition of cinnamon in the chocolate sauce!



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Each year we have ‘mini Christmas’. Mini Christmas came about because we weren’t able to celebrate with close family and friends on the actual day. So as not to miss out we have a Christmas meal and exchange gifts a week or so before Christmas.

We take it in turns to cook the starter, main course and dessert. There is an unwritten and unconsciously agreed rule that we never have the same thing twice and we never have turkey!

This year, Jed and I were on dessert duty. I dread dessert years because, as anyone who knows me will know, I’m not a pudding person and find it difficult to get inspired about sweet things.

After a good few weekends of extremely difficult (!!) research consisting of watching plenty of BBC food programmes, the Good Food channel and the Food Network channel, I had developed a dessert worthy of a place on the mini Christmas table.

chocolate orange. Not Terry’s, mine.

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In a moment of creative inspiration (and genius?!) I wrote this entry for the Cinnamon Club New Year’s Eve Party competition!

There is a guy named Jed

Who plenty of curry has been fed

His fiancée has a curry addiction

He’s sure there could be a worse affliction

So just let’s her get on in the kitchen.

He likes it when she makes dhal

But draws the line at phall

Some have come to think she’s crazy

It doesn’t bother him, she makes a mean jalfrezi

So he’ll just eat til his mind is hazy.

He knows of the Cinnamon Club

Where great food is at the hub

If only he could give her the night off

Somewhere with a nice wine or cocktail to quaff

And a most excellent curry to scoff!

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Christmas comes but once a year. That may be so but the Christmas celebrations are aplenty. Saturday was our second of five Christmas meals this year!

It has become a tradition that one weekend in December we meet up with a friend of ours, Phil, for Christmas food and drinks. Each year we choose a different local gastropub or restaurant and on Saturday it was the turn of the relatively newly opened Hall & Woodhouse in Bath.

Hall & Woodhouse are the Dorset brewers famed for Badger Ales so we knew the drink would be good at least. We got off to a great start with a pint each of Pickled Partridge, full of Christmassy flavour but not too dark and heavy like many seasonal ales. The conversation flowed as well as the beer and our attention turned to lunch. Local produce and Badger Ales are abound on the winter menu which was well thought out with plenty of choice but not so much to render a decision impossible. My eyes instantly fell upon the “Stargazy” pie, as did Phil’s, and Jed plumped for one of his favourites, chicken and ham pie.

“Stargazy” written as such because the Hall & Woodhouse pie isn’t a traditional one made with pilchards, sardine or mackerel but is authentic in its presentation with a crayfish poking up through the pastry, gazing at the stars. The pie was filled with crayfish, prawns, scallops, monkfish, smoked haddock and new potatoes in a white wine and herb sauce and was topped with puff pastry. It was decadent and very tasty, the only thing letting it down was that there just wasn’t enough sauce. It was all gone by the time I’d made it half way through.

Jed’s chicken and ham pie consisted of hand torn chicken, ham hock, carrots, shallots and greens braised in a white wine and herb sauce, topped with puff pastry and served with olive oil mash. It was a comforting pie but strangely accompanied by a rich beef gravy. Our waitress explained that the little jug of gravy had been added to the dish because comments had been returned to the kitchen that some sauce was needed with the mash. Hopefully our comments of replacing the beef gravy with some of the liquor from the pie or adding a spoon to the tray to allow you to spoon some of the sauce from the pie over the mash were also passed on!

Whilst Phil and I tucked into the West Country cheese board, Jed finished with a trifle like no other trifle I’ve seen before! This one with Blandford Fly ale and sticky toffee pudding within. It must have been good because it wasn’t around for long! 


We had a great afternoon and were looked after very well by our waitress. It’s a shame she left before we did but we were assured our tip was put on one side for her. Merry Christmas and we hope to see you again!

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I spent the weekend at a very different work Christmas party, not my own company’s Christmas party, but that of my partner’s, Element78. This year, the MD, Iain, decided that rather than the usual meal and drinks in town he’d invite partners and organise something a little different; an away weekend to Springhead, a beautiful, rural, self-catering centre in Dorset. 

When, in the pub one Friday evening after work, I offered to manage the Christmas dinner cooking for him, I could see the weight falling off his shoulders. And so, the idea came about that each member of the E78 team and their partner would be responsible for organising one element of the weekend to share the load.  Then began a couple of months deliberation, discussion and delegation.

My attention turned to menu planning. Unaware of how good the facilities would be but knowing we were going to be out and about during the day and there’d only be a short time available for cooking, it had to be something which could be turned around in as short a time as possible…no giant turkey then! 

The hardest part, besides calculating how many potatoes to order (after all, there is a rule which states that no matter how many roast potatoes you cook, there just aren’t going to be enough), was finding something suitable for the vegetarians. Whilst I insist on having veggie night once a week at home, I’m not vegetarian and nor could I ever be (I could not come to terms with life without chicken or pork with crackling!), I do like to look at the vegetarian options when we’re out for dinner. I’m often appalled at how unappealing and thoughtless the dishes are compared to the meat or fish dishes, especially on Sunday and Christmas menus. My challenge had to be to come up with a vegetarian option which not only went with all the trimmings but which made my vegetarian diners feel special and that their meal was a star of the show. 

Initial numbers worked out at 14 meat eaters and 3 veggies but as the days before the big weekend passed, messages were being relayed my way about the changing numbers. One day it would increase, the next decrease. It was impossible to know how many I would be feeding on the night. There was only one thing to do; keep calm and carry on!

We arrived back from an afternoon of virtual warfare (one to keep the boys happy!) around 6, dinner was to be served at 8. Time to get cooking. I’m very thankful to Jed and the small team of helpers who took orders to get potatoes peeled, carrots chopped, sprouts shredded, peppers stuffed and utensils washed. Within the hour everything was prepared and anything that needed to be in the oven was – there was plenty of time for G&Ts and to change into party frocks before the final flourish and service. Ramsay’s kitchen nightmares this wasn’t, but I could get used to the shouts of ‘yes chef’!!

Dinner went down incredibly well and people couldn’t have been more complimentary, with pretty much everyone (final headcount was 21) asking for one recipe or another. I achieved my aim with the vegetarian dish and was overwhelmed by the comment of ‘this was the best Christmas dinner I’ve had’. I can’t help but think that I’ve got a job for life at future E78 Christmas party’s but, do you know what, I’d be more than happy with that outcome!

Here it is, the Element 78 Christmas 2010 menu:

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