Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christmas Dinner in Vienna: Blue Cheese Stuffing

This year we celebrated Christmas in my uncle Alvaro's apartment in Vienna. We volunteered for the second year running to cook the Christmas dinner - we thought it was a great opportunity to really test our cooking skills and try out some new things, particularly doing a proper meat roast!

The first decision was what to eat. Seeing as we wouldn't even be in England, we felt under no obligation to go with the tradition of turkey, and that instantly meant turkey was out seeing as no one seems to actually like turkey. Instead, via popular vote, we went for roast lamb. This was scary for us as we'd never cooked any kind of meat joint before as we're pretty veggie-orientated. 

With lamb firmly on the menu (salmon for me), what other dishes would we cook? Our starter was a Sweet Potato and Chilli Soup, which we served with Emmental, natural yogurt and crusty wholemeal bread. We decided on Roast Veggies (potatoes, parsnips, carrots, shallots, fennel), Pan-fried Red Cabbage, Blue Cheese and Walnut Stuffing Balls, Smashed Celeriac, Frankfurter Pigs in Blankets, Yorkshire Puds with Henderson's Mushroom Gravy.

Before we even got on the plane to Austria, we decided we needed to be really organised and sorted out all our lists, including a step-by-step Cooking Plan with timings and everything!

Unfortunately we were unable to stick rigidly to the plan - hardly any of the Christmas Eve prep was done due to the fact we ended up having a debaucherous tequila party. In fact the only thing we managed to do was give the leg of lamb a nice drunken rub with garlic, lemon, thyme, oil and salt.

Our change of plan obviously made the next day quite a bit more difficult, especially with a bit of a hangover, but we managed it somehow. The entire day seems like a massive blur and we did serve dinner two hours late by which time I think most of the family were chewing their arms off. 

However the compliments we received were great, my brother even said "That was the best Christmas dinner I ever had, everything on the plate was exemplary." Lovely stuff!

The first thing we did on Christmas morning was prepare the ingredients for the Sweet Potato and Chilli Soup. We fried up onions, garlic, corriander, red chillis and sweet potatoes before covering in stock and leaving to simmer until all the veg was tender. We then blended it all up and placed to one side ready to be reheated.

Next, I made the Blue Cheese and Walnut Stuffing balls. These turned out really ace - very tasty with a great texture and a surprisingly meaty flavour. I have to say we were really proud of them, hence the reason we have shared the recipe below in the hope you will enjoy making and eating them as much as we did! 

Bailey was in charge of doing the roast veggies, which he based on Jamie Oliver's Roast Vegetable Mega Mix - plenty of herbs, apple vinegar, the juice of a couple of clementines, salt and pepper and cooking spray on the parboiled veg. This was all placed to roast in the oven soon after the lamb went in.

Next up was the gravy which Bailey did by roasting onions with a tablespoon of flour and a drizzle of oil.

He then simmered veggie stock, English mustard powder and Henderson's Relish with the onions before blending. It was a really great gravy! You could also add the juices from the meat if you wanted.

Next up, Bailey made the pigs in blankets by coating the sausages in Chipotle Sauce and wrapping in Austrian bacon. 

We then stopped cooking the Christmas dinner to make a quick brekkie for everyone, to eat and to distribute and open some pressies before getting straight back on it!

For the last bit of prep I made the Yorkshire Pudding mix, good old Delia's recipe, of course. 

I chopped and pan-fried a bit of red cabbage just with a little salt and pepper - nice and simple.

I also made the Smashed Celeriac, which was another Jamie Oliver recipe. I had never made anything like this before and wasn't sure if it was going to work as part of the Christmas dinner but it was really lovely! I will be including this on all of my roasts in future!

Now that the prep was all done, we were able to pop the lamb in the oven (at 200 degrees C) straight onto the bars of the oven shelf with a tray of parboiled potatoes underneath it to collect all the juices from the lamb!

The rest of the cooking went pretty much to the plan which was great, putting everything in to cook and reheating stuff so that everything was served at the same time and hot. We served the soup before the main which went down really well.

We then enlisted the help of Roy to carve the lamb while we plated everything else up. 

So, phew! And that was our Christmas dinner. We were really pleased with how it turned out - everything worked to varying degrees and everyone seemed happy. We're already looking forward to cooking Christmas dinner again next year and have pledged to host it in our house if at all possible. We think there's still plenty of room for improvement - particularly in that there wasn't really enough food for people to have a good plate of seconds - so next year, more food!

Finally, as promised, here is the recipe for the Blue Cheese and Walnut Stuffing Balls - our favourite part of the dinner!

56g crusty wholemeal bread
56g walnuts
4 tbsp fresh parsley
56g mushrooms
2 eggs
170g soft blue cheese
Salt and pepper

Start by lightly toasting the bread under the grill before removing and blending the toasted bread into fine breadcrumbs. Add them to a medium-sized bowl. Meanwhile, finely chop the walnuts and add to the bowl.

Finely chop the parsley and mushrooms and add to the bowl with the breadcrumbs and walnuts.

Chop the blue cheese up into little chunks. As the cheese is soft, it may be a little sticky but don't worry about this too much. 

Put the chunks of cheese in the bowl and begin to "rub" the cheese into the rest of the ingredients using your fingers.

Once the cheese is evenly distributed and rubbed in, the mixture will feel firmer. At this point, beat the two eggs in a separate container and add them to the bowl before mixing well.

Now take tablespoonfuls of the stuffing mix out of the pan and begin to shape into balls with your hands. 

Leave the stuffing balls to rest while you're sorting out the rest of the roast dinner. Around 30 minutes before serving the dinner, place the stuffing balls in the oven at about 200 degrees C. Serve when crisp and sizzling - really rather tasty!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Steve and Danny's Seafood Fideuá

While in Vienna celebrating Christmas, my brother Steve cooked us up an amazing Seafood Fideuá. It was absolutely delicious!

I love Fideuá - it's a Valencian dish and is a lovely alternative to paella as it uses tiny noodles called fideos instead of rice and is served with a garlicky allioli which adds it another great bit of flavour.

Steve and his housemate Danny have been cooking Fideuá since they first started living in Barcelona and have gotten really good at making it over the years. Even more impressive is the fact that they were never actually taught how to make it and sort of worked it out for themselves with a bit of advice from Spanish friends.

The Fideuá Steve made over Christmas was amazing - my auntie Diana got hold of absolutely loads of amazing quality seafood and I was fascinated to see him preparing it all - I didn't even know Steve could cook!

Steve also sourced some fancy allioli from El Corte Inglés which was super garlicky.

The result was the most delicious Fideuá, packed with bags of flavour and loads of beautifully cooked yummy seafood which left a lovely garlicky flavour in my mouth. Mmm.

Steve's main tip for making the Fideuá was to make sure the fish stock you cook the pasta in is as fishy as possible and other than that, "don't worry"...

Great stuff. Well, I was lucky enough to get the recipe from Steve so that we can all enjoy it in the future. I for one am looking forward to wowing my pals with a scrummy Fideuá treat in the next few months!

Recipe (serves 8):
2 cloves garlic
15 small squid
4 - 6 giant prawns
20 prawns
20 mussels
5 tomatoes
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
Olive oil
2 litres fish stock
750g fideos (or vermicelli)
1 jar of allioli

Start by preparing all the seafood. Remove the insides of the squid, remove the shells of the prawns etc. but ensure you keep all the bits you have removed as these will go in to make the stock extra fishy. Steve stresses that the stock needs to be as fishy as possible so for example if you have defrosted the seafood in some water, keep that to make your stock.

Also prepare the vegetables - chop the garlic and peppers. Grate all the tomatoes up and but discard the skins. As you can see from this photo, Roy helped with this task.

Put the fish stock - with all the unwanted bits and bobs from the seafood in - in a large pan and bring to the boil. Leave to simmer. Heat the paella pan up over a moderate heat and add a nice big glug of olive oil. Fry the garlic, peppers and tomatoes until soft.

Add the squid and cook until almost tender. Then add the rest of the seafood and cook "until you're sure you're not going to kill anyone".

Add the fideos and stir around with the rest of the ingredients.

Meanwhile, drain the fish stock, removing all the bits and bobs and keeping the stock.

Fill the paella pan with the fish stock to the top.

Leave the pasta to cook in the stock until the fideos are soft. You may need to add more of the stock if the pasta isn't cooked. When the fideos are just about cooked with a little moisture at the bottom of the paella dish, pop the big prawns on top of the pasta to cook.

If you like your Fideuá crispy on top, you can place the paella dish under the grill for a couple of minutes before plating up. Serve with a lovely big blob of the allioli and some nice pan con tomate - bread rubbed with tomato. Delicious - thanks Steve and Danny!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

This & That

Last week, I took a break from my gruelling Christmas shopping schedule to meet up for lunch with the Doyles at This & That Café - tucked down an alley in the Northern Quarter. I'd actually wanted to try This & That out for some time - if I had a quid for every time I'd had it recommended to me, I'd have, well, at least a fiver.

This & That is something of a Manchester institution, with many claiming its inexpensive, no-frills curries are the best in the city. Every lunchtime, the place is packed full of hungry diners of all ages, genders and professions and it can apparently get so busy you'll struggle to find a seat.

On this particular cold, windy and rainy Monday, I was so pleased to be going somewhere warm that the somewhat shifty exterior on the way into the somewhat shifty interior didn't bother me a jot. The place was typically busy so we joined the queue to order our Rice and 3 Veg curry deal. The menu changes daily ensuring that you literally could eat there every day of the week and today's veggie options were Lentil Daal, Mixed Veg and Cauliflower with Potatoes.

The three scrummy looking curries were slopped onto my plastic plate and handed to me so I could top them with a nice bit of green chilli and corriander. We helped ourselves to knives and forks and tap water from the jug and were even lucky enough to get a table to ourselves.

The three curries were all very tasty - hearty, flavoursome and very well-cooked, with the chopped chillis I'd distributed to my plate adding a bit of spicy excitement. I loved the textures of the various curries mixed together with the rice - thick sauces with tender veg and soft, grainy potatoes. Doyle also ordered a large Onion Bhaji which he said was very nice too.

Due to its canteen-esque nature, This & That isn't really the type of place to sit around for a post-meal chat, and the chances are someone will be after your seat anyway, so we discussed our thoughts on the meal while walking through town. We were all in agreement that the food had been good and our bellies were full - very satisfied. The food was also very healthy - no visible oil or grease, and I'm pretty sure my meal provided me with one or two of my 5-a-day.

At £3.30 a for Rice and 3 curries with a big old bhaji a snip at 70p you really cannot argue with the price either. I thought it's no wonder so many people go to This & That when you could quite easily spend the same amount of money on a rubbish sandwich or a sub-par coffee. If I worked in the centre I would definitely be in there every day trying out different dishes - if you were a meat eater you could try out a whole range of combinations resulting in a completely different meal every time.

So This & That was a hit. What did I think about the claim that the serve "the best curries in Manchester"? Hmm. Best value maybe, but I'm not sure if the food and overall experience were awesome enough for me to give them that coveted title. I'll just have to go back and try out a few more yummy meals before I decide - poor me!

This and That on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Edible Christmas Gift Boxes

Evening all! Just a quick post today really to wish all our lovely readers a very MERRY CHRISTMAS! I hope you've all had a lovely day and are as stuffed full of yummy, lovingly cooked food and indulgent treats as we are today. We are celebrating Christmas in Vienna with my family and have, of course, spent the day cooking.

Keeping with the spirit of the day, I thought I'd just share the Edible Christmas Gift Boxes we gave to our nearest and dearest as presents this year. We really wanted to show our favourite peeps how much they mean to us by putting together a few homemade Christmas treats. Although putting the boxes together and distributing them all got a bit stressful in the week leading up to Christmas, I really enjoyed doing it and letting my hidden crafty side loose for a bit when decorating the jars and bottles.

We will definitely be preparing bigger and better gift boxes next year and maybe some other pressie projects in between!

Included in the boxes were the following treats...

Aji Criollo - a spicy Colombian relish
Blackberry Brandy - made the same way as our Sloe Gin - see below
Roy Morris' Plum Chutney
Sloe Gin - made earlier in the year with sloes bought from Riverside Organic Farm
"Sun blushed" Olives and Tomatoes with Chilli and Oregano
Turrón de Chocolate Crujiente - a traditional Spanish Christmas sweetie

We hope the recipients of the boxes enjoyed them!


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