UCISA Conference Dinner

I have found conference dinners can be a bit hit and miss. Sometimes you get something really special, other times you get something that, well you ask yourself why did I bother!

I remember one conference dinner in Sheffield Town Hall which was really quite awful. It comprised an over-cooked chicken breast wrapped in a rasher of bacon, served with soggy tasteless vegetables.

Whereas the ALT-C 2008 Conference dinner at Leeds at the Edgbaston Cricket Club was out of this world. This was cooked by students from the local college. The main course comprised lamb cooked three ways and we had homemade chocolates.

The venue can also be a critical aspect of the conference dinner. Hotel conference dining rooms may be convenient, but often lack character or personality. mLearn 2008 had two conference dinners, one was at the Ironbridge Museum amongst the tools and engines of the Industrial Revolution. The second was at RAF Cosford under the wings of a Comet jet airliner. The food was pretty good at those dinners too.

The UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities Conference dinner was a pretty good one. The venue was the Birmingham Museum & Gallery which was very atmospheric, well apart from the freaky statue, don’t blink!

Freaky statue at the Birmingham Museum & Gallery

We had a chance to explore the museum and see some of the exhibits. The tables were set in part of the museum and was well lit. It was really nice to sit amongst the exhibits in the Industrial Gallery, housing the Decorative Arts collection. The Industrial Gallery is a brilliant example of Victorian architecture, boasting steel work, a glass ceiling and colourful tiled floor.

UCISA Conference Dinner at the Birmingham Museum & Gallery

The food was really nice and beautifully cooked and consisted of three courses, coffee and chocolates. The starter consisted of an olive salad with parma ham, a tomato pie and a risotto rissole.

n olive salad with parma ham, a tomato pie and a risotto rissole

The rissole was full of flavour and the crumb coating had a nice crunch. The olive salad was tasty and I really enjoyed the tomato pie.

The main course was chargrilled chicken stuffed with safe, served with potato dauphinoise, shoestring vegetables and gravy!

chargrilled chicken stuffed with safe, served with potato dauphinoise, shoestring vegetables

This was nice, not outstanding, the chicken was tender, but I felt it was a little overcooked, or more likely had been standing around for a little too long. The shoestring vegetables was tasty and clever.

The pudding, which I forgot to capture, was a lime desert. This was fresh and sharp and helped clear the palate.

Overall it was a tasty conference dinner, in a beautiful environment and with excellent company.

Leek and Lemon Risotto

Leek and Lemon Risotto

I seem to have been making paella a lot recently, so for a change I decided to make a risotto. As with paella, having the right kind of rice is critical to get that creamy risotto texture. I have used arborio, though this time I used carnaroli.

In a large frying pan, I put some olive oil and some butter, to which I added the zest of a lemon and some chopped garlic. I then added onion, red pepper and leeks.

These were cooked off in the pan until they were soft. I then added the carnaroli rice, this I coated in the oil, butter, onions and leeks. You can tell how far to go before adding the stock, the rice should be at what is called the “popping stage”. Now if you have some white wine, this would be an ideal time to add some, otherwise add some stock.

Don’t add all the stock, the key to success with a risotto, is adding stock a little at a time and lots of stirring.

After twenty minutes and just before serving, first check the rice is cooked, I then added the juice of a lemon and some parmesan cheese. You could add some rocket if you wanted, this adds flavour and colour. Freshly chopped parsley would be another nice idea.

I served the risotto garnished with lemon slices.

Making Risotto

I have been making risotto much more often now, as you might expect, the more you cook it, the easier it is and also becomes less daunting. What I like about risotto is how easy it is to add different flavours and make something different each time. The key of course is to use the right kind of rice; I have started to experiment with different kinds of risotto rice. As well as the usual suspect, arborio, I have also been using carnaroli. The end results are very similar, the creamy consistency is what makes a risotto a risotto.

The process I use is as follows.

In a large frying pan, place some olive oil. Then add some finely chopped onion.

Soften the onions.

Bring up the heat.

Add the risotto rice and ensure that the rice is coated in the oil
and mixed in with the onion.

Now add some stock. I either use chicken stock or vegetable stock. If it’s in the fridge I also occassionally use some white wine.

Keep topping up with stock to ensure that the rice doesn’t dry out.

Stir on a regular basis. This will help create a creamy texture.

Once the rice is virtually cooked, add a large handful of grated parmesan and some freshly ground black pepper.

Serve.

For flavours I will either add the ingredients in with the onions, or cook them separately. With some ingredients such as mushrooms I may do both!

Simple Risotto

Yesterday I made a very simple risotto.

In a large frying pan, place some olive oil. Then add some finely chopped onion.

Soften the onions.

Bring up the heat.

Add the risotto rice and ensure that the rice is coated in the oil and mixed in with the onion.

Now add some chicken stock.

Keep topping up with stock to ensure that the rice doesn’t dry out.

Stir on a regular basis. This will help create a creamy texture.

Once the rice is virtually cooked, add a large handful of grated parmesan and some freshly ground black pepper.

Serve.

Vegetable Risotto

I do like risotto and have in the past made a very nice lemon and rocket risotto.

Sainsburys do sell plain risotto rice, but they also sell a Mediterranean Style Vegetable Risotto Kit. At £2.99 I didn’t think it was value for money, however I did find it on offer recently for just £1.49, so I thought I would give it a try. It comprises arborio rice and dried vegetables.

It’s very simple to cook, virtually no preparation and then cook in the pan with stock.

It wasn’t that bad, quick and easy to cook and quite tasty.

However if it was £2.99 then no I wouldn’t buy it, for that sort of money I would prefer to buy the raw ingredients and make it from scratch. The preparation saved isn’t huge and fresh vegetables would certainly make a difference to flavour and the final dish.

I served mine with some grilled chicken.