New Year’s Eve Dinner


It seems a lot of people are opting for a quiet New Year’s Eve – myself and my better half included. Having partied in many a new year in the past, this year most of our friends have dispersed into their own houses, flats and ”no plans” arrangements, which after a hugely indulgent and busy Christmas seems like the best idea we’ve all had all year!..

But staying in for New Year’s Eve doesn’t have to mean boring. What better way to see in 2012 this year than a gorgeous home-cooked dinner for two – or a few, perhaps something spicy, something which can be cooked together, some sharing plates – whatever you fancy, New Year’s Eve 2011 is a great opportunity for a relaxed late candle-lit dinner.

Here are my New Year’s Eve menu suggestions:

1. Duck Braised in Spiced Orange Juice
Turn to Vietnam in Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey book for his Duck braised in spiced orange juice. Spicy, hearty and full of Christmas spices – serve with Jasmine rice cooked with a cinamon stick, and a teaspoon of turmeric to infuse more winter spice flavour and turn the rice a beautiful golden colour.

Try this with: JACKSON ESTATE – Green Lip Sauvignon Blanc – £10.92,

2. Boeuf Bourguignon
Go gourmet with a Masterchef inspired Boeuf Bourguignon – a cosy warming dish perfect served up with some creamy mashed potatoes and a large glass of full bodied spicy red wine.

Try this with: The Little Penguin Shiraz – £5.99, Available at Sainsbury’s

3. Killer Jerk Chicken
For family style sharing, Jamie is king. Everyone can muck in making any of his 30-minute meals but for a special celebration and a really full table of food that everyone can dig in to I’d go for the spicy Killer Jerk Chicken with rice & beans, salad and chargrilled sweetcorn.

Try this with: Torres Via Esmeralda 2010 – £7.30

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Christmas Chestnuts


Chestnuts – It always amazes me how many people still haven’t tried these winter treasures.

I discovered them to be one of my favourite wintery, christmassy flavours about 7 years ago when I passed one of the hot roasted chestnut carts in the city. At £1.50 a bag, they were definitely worth a try and since that day I’ve been hooked – to this day it”s still what I look forward to the most about going shopping in Leeds in the cold!..

Chestnuts can be easily mistaken for conkers (horse chestnuts) and start to drop from the tree around the same time in early October. But when you crack open those spiky green cases, you should see three nuts in total – a flat middle one and two shiny round nuts either side. Although they can form a fantastic ingredient for stuffings, filled pasta or whole served with your sprouts and bacon on the Christmas day dinner table, my favourite way to enjoy them is simply whole, roasted, warm and plentiful.

Although this year I did venture into the countryside to pick my own, the ones you can buy from any supermarket are generally Italian chestnuts and are much larger – perfect for roasting.

Simply take a small knife to the brown shell, slice a shallow incision from the middle of the shell on the flat side, to the pointy tip. Put your chestnuts dry onto a baking tray and roast in the oven on 190°C for about 20 minutes. Allow to cool slightly then peel and enjoy!

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Guacamole in Mexico


By day 6 I had answered my own question‚ how much food can I eat before I physically explode? Just short of being hospitalised with a ruptured stomach, our gourmet all-inclusive in Mexico had got the better of me.

With 6 a la carte restaurants I was desperate to try every item on every menu and have a Masterchef style ‘taste’ of it all. But our dinner etiquette meant it was a starter, main and pud if you fancied. So instead we systematically worked our way through all 6 restaurants, breakfast bars, omelette stations and lunch buffets.

Finally it was the Mexican restaurant on site, La Carreta, where we overdosed on enough meat and carbs to feed the entire Ejercito Mexicano! It just kept coming: corn bread, tomato bread, huge plates of nachos with all the trimmings, cactus salad, chicken fajitas, fillets of fish, re-fried beans…

The highlight for me though, now the memory of my belly ache has subsided, was the gorgeous guacamole served up with salted tortilla chips and fresh tomato salsa. This guacamole had the perfect blend of smooth dip with big meaty chunks of ripe green avocado. Probably the dish we instantly think of when we think of Mexican cuisine, La Carreta had a great version

The following day, the resort’s entertainment team let us in on the secret guacamole recipe during an afternoon cookery class. My take on this is a little more generous on the assisting flavours, rightly or wrongly I think you need to be smacked in the mouth with all six accompaniments to make it a real party piece.

To make this fresh and luxurious avocado dip you will need:

5 large very ripe avocados
2 cloves of garlic‚ crushed
1 red chilli‚ finely chopped
1 green chilli‚ finely chopped
2 limes – halved
Handful of fresh coriander‚ finely chopped

This recipe couldn’t be easier‚ start by mashing up your avocados in a bowl, throw in the garlic and chillies, squeeze in all 4 halves of lime, stir in the coriander and then add salt to taste.

You should be left with a creamy, spicy, zesty fragrant dip which still retains some meaty chunks of avocado‚ just firm enough to be able to scoop a mound on to a crispy salty tortilla chip!

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