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Posts Tagged ‘piquillo peppers’

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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November has been a month of two foodie firsts for us. Our first underground supper club experience a couple of weekends ago and, last night, our first dinner at a pop up restaurant.

The pop up phenomenon hit London some time ago and has been going strong with restaurants appearing for one night only on barges, in warehouses and disused buildings. You name it, someone is sure to have the skills, the foresight and the contacts to be able to turn it into a chic and exclusive dining venue.

Last night was, as far as we’re aware, the first pop up to hit Bristol. Our chef for the evening was Alexis, by day a chef at Papadeli, and front of house was run by Kristjan, formerly manager of the Riverstation and now teacher at the Bordeaux Quay cookery school. The surprising venue was a scout hut on the waterside, the Benjamin Perry Boathouse at Phoenix Wharf, where we joined around 40 other guests for a Spanish-themed meal.

The team of three girls in the kitchen and two guys front of house must have been working like trojans to pull off the meal and service with such high quality and class. Hampered by traffic delays because of the bad weather and starting late, you’d have never have known they were so far behind schedule getting ready for service.

As guests arrived, the buzz in the room grew louder and the Spanish guitarist began to play and sing. The atmosphere was in warm contrast to the freezing weather outside.

The dining experience was communal – we were sat on long tables and the food arrived on boards and in large bowls to be passed around and shared, with neighbours helping to serve each other.

Our four course meal consisted:

  • Tapa of aubergine caviar with flatbread, piquillo peppers stuffed with goats cheese and pine nuts, braised squid with potato
  • Cocido of chicken, beef and chorizo with a romesco sauce, chick peas, savoy cabbage and butternut squash, fennel and orange salad
  • Seville orange cake with Pedro Ximenez soaked raisins and cream
  • Manchego and membrillo

The aubergine was heady with garlic and silky smooth, the sweet Spanish peppers, which are charred over wood and peeled by hand, were delicious with the tangy goats cheese and the squid, which had been braising for hours, was deliciously tender and fragrant with orange.

Cocido is a national Spanish dish with many regional variations. It is a rustic stew with a light stock, simmered for a long time until the meat falls off the bones. This version happily transported me back to my time living in Northern Spain.

                               

The cake was moist and topped with caramelised Seville orange zest and the plump raisins were bursting with sherry as you bit into them. The cheese and quince jelly were the perfect end to this sumptuous Latino banquet.

The evening drew to a close with guests writing comments and leaving contact details for the hosts on a large makeshift board with a view to being invited to the next Bristol pop up in the, hopefully, not too distant future.

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