Morgan Christmas Dinner 2011

This is just a fun little post, I wanted to show you what we had for our Christmas dinner this year ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m very strict in my Christmas traditions, it has to be the same every year. Exactly the same! I still live at home but my brother has moved out and he comes home every Christmas and we all spend the day together. We don’t have anyone else over; just the core four! ย We open all our presents in the morning and then sit down for lunch about 1pm…by which time we’ve all had a drink or 4 and feeling generally quite jolly.

This was this years beautiful table setting, expertly laid by my Mum to include party poppers, placenames, candles and crackers.

Our starter is always the same, cooked and assembled by Head Chef AKA Dad. We have beautiful smoked salmon and king prawns over lettuce, with a lovely zingy lime and chilli dressing and crispy bacon bits on top. This years dressing was a bit of an experiment as my Dad said he’d added quite a bit more chilli than usual. As we were eating, he tentatively asked for our opinions. I personally was a big fan, the chilli gave the whole dish a great kick but my Mum and brother were not quite as sure. We’ll have to see what becomes of the dressing in 2012!

After a pleasant break in which we received our first “table present” (a tradition carried on from our childhood which cheered us up immensely remembering that after all our main presents were opened we would still have these to come) the various dishes which made up the main event started appearing on the table.

Stuffing balls and sausages wrapped in bacon (a must have for any Christmas dinner!)

Perfectly roasted potatoes and parsnips.

Homemade bread and cranberry sauces!

Carrots and Brussel sprouts…not my favourite but unfortunately a vital component of Christmas lunch. I forced down a couple…well maybe only one…half.

My plate, laden with meat, awaiting the onslaught of accompaniments!

And here, in all it’s glory, is my finished plate. We actually got new plates this year which was quite exciting, lovely big white ones which eliminate the age-old problem of overcrowding. Unfortunately my eyes were slightly bigger than my belly and as much as I tried, I was only able to eat about 3/4. Still a pretty good effort I think but very difficult to come to terms with at the time. My favourites were the gorgeous roast potatoes and my Mums homemade cranberry sauce.

I was so stuffed that I couldn’t even contemplate dessert, opting instead for a couple of soothing glasses of delicious, creamy Baileys. A perfect ending to a perfect lunch and another successful Morgan Family Christmas!

Friends Indian Restaurant – Bishops Waltham

Last night me and Ben went for dinner at Friends Refined Indian Cuisine in Bishops Waltham. We’ve wanted to go there for ages, having previously only sampled their food in takeaway format (which is amazing!!) and we booked a table for 7.15, planning to go for a couple of drinks at a pub nearby beforehand.

We were actually slightly late for our reservation due to having to go to a further away pub than originally planned but this was not a problem. We were greeted warmly and led to a lovely little table for two at the back of the restaurant. The dining area is quite small and according to the website seats 50 which sounds about right. There was a table next to us which was really quite close and I was hoping nobody would be seated there, luckily it remained empty throughout our dinner.

First things first, drinks! Ben opted for a Cobra beer while I chose one of the only wines available by the glass which I think was a Chardonnay. We also got some water for the table.

There was a really nice atmosphere in the restaurant – there were only two other tables occupied which made for minimal noise and there was some music playing quietly in the background. We guessed that the restaurant does most of it’s business through takeaways as there was a steady stream of people coming in to collect their food throughout our meal.

We opted against starters as we are valiantly trying to be a little healthier what with it being January and all and we also know from takeaway experience that the portion sizes are not to be scoffed at!

We ordered a curry, rice and naan each and onion bhaji’s to share as Ben said they were the best he’s ever tried, high praise indeed! We waited a while for our food to come but it wasn’t an issue as we were chatting and enjoying our drinks. I think they were waiting for us to signal we were ready or something as at one point one of the lovely guys came over and asked if we were “ready for our mains?” which confused us slightly as we hadn’t had starters! But it didn’t matter.

After that, a steady stream of food was bought out to our little table and it was time to feast!

I ordered the Lamb Pasanda, described on the menu as the “next step up from a korma” as I am slightly unadventurous and not a huge fan of spicy curries.

Apologies for the less than ideal photos, I only had my iPhone and it was super dark in there!

I also got a peshwari naan which is my absolute favourite, lots of scrummy coconut and almonds in the middle. As you can see I really lean toward the sweeter options when having a curry; there is something about the combination of a slightly spicy sauce and the sweetness of coconut and almond that just works perfectly in my opinion.

In a stroke of genius I opted against the usual basmati rice and instead bravely got the exciting sounding keema rice, containing cooked lamb and fried onions. It was seriously amazing. I was worried that lamb curry + lamb rice might be, dare I say it, too much lamb…but obviously I came to my senses as you can actually never have too much lamb. It was perfect, ensuring a taste of meat in every bite, a difficult feat with some curries that contain less than generous ratios of meat to sauce. Happily this is not the case at Friends and even if I’d gone for plain rice I think I would have had more than enough lamb to last me through!

The lamb pasanda was amazing. The flavour was so rich and intense, I could really taste the almonds and cream and there was a hint of spice that kept me on my toes! Combined with the rice and the naan I was in absolute heaven! We hardly ever get Indian takeaways or go out to restaurants but I think we will be going to Friends a lot more often now. We quite often cook kormas and tikkas at home using Quorn chicken pieces or fillets but the flavour is never there. Even in really good ready-meals (if there is such a thing!?) that we very occasionally buy, the flavour is always just lacking. I have been seriously impressed by the food at Friend’s and it has proved, to me, that Indian food is one of the only cuisines we just can’t replicate accurately and needs to be sampled at a restaurant.

Benji got a Vegetable Dopiaza as he was fancying something a bit spicy. He got mushroom rice and a plain naan to accompany his curry.

The mushroom rice was crammed with fat, juicy mushrooms and he said the rice had absorbed all the flavours making it tasty enough to eat on it’s own!

His dopiaza was full of perfectly cooked vegetables and there was a sizeable heat to the dish which Ben really enjoyed. There were no complaints with regards to the naan, not a crumb was left on that plate when he was finished!

We also got a starter sized dish of onion bhaji’s which we asked to be served with our meals. These were absolutely delicious and we cleared the dish with no problems!

I was actually really impressed with the portion sizes overall; when eating out I often can’t finish my food and end up leaving a lot but at Friends I was able to eat it all which was very exciting! It could have been because we went without starters, something we don’t normally do but is obviously beneficial!

Overall we had an absolutely delightful evening at Friends and will definitely be back, I actually suggested we go back tonight but Ben understandably told me to calm down. The service was really friendly and nice and we felt well looked after and not at all rushed. The dinner came to ยฃ41 which included two Cobra beers and a glass of wine and we felt this was reasonable. We like the convenience of being able to walk down to the Village from Ben’s house and saving money on train/taxi fares into town which is always good.

Finally, I saw this on the website and just had to share it:

The name “Friends” comes from the fact that a group of friends own and run the restaurant.

How adorable is that!?

Super Duper Butternut Squash And Goats Cheese Lasagna

I made this lasagna a few weeks ago on a Saturday night and to be honest not a day has gone by when one of us hasn’t mentioned it. In fact, just a week after the initial creation I had to go to Sainsburys and buy all the ingredients again because we just had to have it for dinner, it wasn’t even an option.

Butternut squash is one of my all time favourite vegetables and I really wanted to make a lasagna based around it, as something a bit different from the usual veggie mince ones we make. I also wanted to incorporate goats cheese as everything goats cheese touches turns to gold. I googled extensively for recipes but couldn’t find any that were exactly what I wanted so I decided to just wing it, lasagna is pretty forgiving when it comes to experimentation!

The only thing I would say is that this lasagna was quite expensive but I did have to buy all the ingredients from scratch as we didn’t have any. As a special treat I think I’m going to write out exactly what I did in case anyone wants to make it, please do because it really is phenomenal!!

So, to make this super duper Butternut Squash and Goats Cheese Lasagna you will need:

1 large butternut squash

2 medium sweet potatoes

500g baby leaf spinach (or you could use frozen, just drain it to within an inch of it’s life)

chopped tomatoes

lasagna sheets (dry or fresh)

grated cheddar cheese

goats cheese

white lasagna sauce (you should probably make it but I was already dreading the butternut squash chopping and so lazily bought a Dolmio jar)

sage

garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper

So! With all your ingredients lovingly lined up on the counter (or not if you’re not quite as sad as me) we can begin! First of all I tackled the squash. I bought a HUGE one so had to use a very large knife to even begin to make some damage. I peeled it first til I was down to the lovely orange flesh. I then cut it in half lengthways, scooped out all the seeds and sliced it into approximately 1 inch thick slices. Such a gorgeous colour!

 

 

I chopped these slices into cubes and put them onto a large baking tray to wait patiently for me while I sliced the sweet potatoes. I peeled those bad boys and cut them into cubes of the same size of the squash – let me tell you slicing sweet potato after slicing butternut squash is like a walk in the park, it was like cutting butter!

Once my potatoes were cut into neat cubes I added them to the baking tray, shook them around a bit and drizzled them with olive oil, salt, pepper and four whole garlic cloves (vampires love lasagna). I then added the MAGIC ingredient, sage! I used fresh sage which I really think is quite important in this recipe, it was only 78p so I pushed the boat out. I picked off about 5 leaves and dotted them around the tray.

 

 

Yummy! I popped the beauties in the oven for about 40 minutes at 180. Now at this point I found it to be a great time to grab a glass of vino and put your feet up, as all the manual labour was done and the rest of the recipe is just layering and arranging, very girly!

 

 

After about 40 minutes the squash and potato were smelling absolutely amazing and I was having great difficulty restraining myself from pouring the whole lot in a bowl and eating it in front of the TV with aforementioned wine. It was the sage that really made the flavours all come together; it goes all crispy and yummy looking so don’t throw it away, pop it in the lasagna! I squeezed open the garlic cloves which had roasted spectacularly and put the pulp into the lasagna too, waste not want not!

It was time to get serious now though. The moment every self-confessed lasagna freak loves, The Layering. There is something so theraputic about layering, I almost get into a kind of rhythm as I reach for each ingredient, watching my creation rise magnificently in front of me and imagining the guaranteed beauty of the cross-section once cooked. This lasagna is quite complex with quite a lot of layering possibilities. I started by putting the bag of spinach into a frying pan and turning the heat up until it started to wilt.

 

 

While it was wilting I assembled my ingredients – roasted squash and sweet potato, chopped tomatoes, lasagna sheets, white sauce and cheddar cheese. Layer me up baby!

 

 

Seriously, how amazing does that look? All those bright, gorgeous colours, it looks like a summers day! In fact I may have said just that, drunkenly, to my boyfriend as he came into the kitchen to check out my progress.

 

 

Now I feel I should explain the awkward elbowing/jostling for space effect occuring with the cheese. I actually ran out of grated chedder as I reached the surface and felt it would be a sensible idea to give my muscles a rest and just slice some. The second time I made this I ensured I had purchased enough goats cheese that there was enough to form a structurally strong layer on the top, thus negating the need for the not-quite-as-posh cheddar. As you can see from the photos, I created a simple layering system of lasagna sheets, butternut squash and sweet potato, tomatoes and spinach, followed by a sprinkle of cheddar cheese and a generous glug of white sauce. I then repeated the process 3 times (it was a MASSIVE dish!) although I should add that the bottom layer consisted of tomatoes as over the years we have learned that for some reason lasagna sheets cook better when they are not right on the very bottom of the dish. One of lifes great mysteries that. The top layer had obviously the added goats cheese and the rest of the white sauce, plus some torn sage leaves for extra flavour. The entire dish (extremely weighty!) went into the oven for approximately an hour on 180 as I wanted to be sure the lasagna sheets were fully cooked. Upon final inspection I was greeted with this beheamouth…

 

 

Which I’m sure you’ll agree, looked terrific. We were very very excited. Within about 10 seconds of me hauling the dish from the oven Ben was besides me, plate in hand, offering to carve.

 

 

And carve I did! We just had the lasagna, no side salad, no chips, nothing. You don’t need anything else!

 

 

It was just incredible. The flavour of the sage came through in every bite, the squash was perfectly cooked, the cheddar had melted into the sauce making it extra cheesy and the goats cheese on top was crisp and strong. I saved the top layer for my very last bite and it was so worth the wait! I’m not going to lie to you, we both went back for seconds and very nearly thirds but we stopped ourselves at the last minute. I let it cool, wrapped it in foil and put it in the fridge overnight and we had it for lunch the next day, still delicious! This is a huge lasagna and unless you’re insanely greedy like us it should make 6 portions, possibly even 8 if teamed with a substantial side.

Just writing this post has made the cravings flare again with such alarming ferocity that it may have to be on the menu for this Saturday nights dinner.

Quick Weekday Dinner

I had had a really, REALLY bad day. Due to insanely high winds and general antisocial weather conditions, the trains had completely failed. There was a tree on the line a couple of stops before mine which I only discovered upon reaching the station in the morning. I could see people turning around and walking back the way I was coming, never a good sign…

To cut an extremely long and frustrating story short, all trains were delayed or cancelled and I had to walk back home and drive to work (45 minutes away) having already paid for my ticket which, due to the almost painful lack of decent customer support at South West Trains I knew I wouldn’t receive a refund on. The final straw was having to stay late at work, meaning I got home about 2 hours later than I would normally. Not at all ideal.

I was also absolutely starving and as any food lover knows, hungry + angry = hangry which is not the sort of position you want to find yourself in very often. If at all. I needed food and I needed it fast! There was a packet of Sainsburys Spinach and Ricotta Tortellini in the fridge which sounded absolutely stunning, confirmed by the realisation that it only took 2 minutes to cook. I put the kettle on and started the hunt for a pasta sauce. Hmm. A fruitless search. There was however a carton of chopped tomatoes in the cupboard so I set about making a quick and easy pasta sauce. I hate the taste of canned and chopped tomatoes and prefer to simmer them for a while with other flavours to remove the metallic/cardboard taste.

I started off by chopping some cherry tomatoes into halves and sauteing them with olive oil and lots of black pepper. They smelt absolutely amazing and I nearly abandoned the pasta idea in favour of good old tomatoes on toast! I saw sense though and continued my original plan. Once the tomatoes were quite broken up I added the chopped tomatoes and a minced clove of garlic. I let the sauce simmer for about 10 minutes to get rid of all the liquid, then added two teaspoons of red pesto at the end. This was the best thing ever! The pesto added so much flavour to the tomatoes, mmmmm.

While I simmered the sauce for the last few minutes I quickly cut and toasted a slice of tiger bread. Before mincing the aforementioned garlic clove, I sliced the end off and rubbed it all over the toasted bread before adding a generous layer of Lurpak. I then switched on the grill and put the toast under there for a couple of minutes. Once it was crisped up nicely I added some grated chedder cheese and set it aside to toast right at the end. It smelt amazing! Nothing quite like the smell of garlic, I absolutely love it.

Finally, I poured my boiling water into a medium saucepan and once it was bubbling, added the pack of tortellini. It literally needed a minute and a half, I often overcook it as I worry it won’t be done but I have learnt to err on the side of caution and take it out about 30/45 seconds before I think it looks done, as it will continue cooking and heat the middle, leaving the pasta perfectly al dente. I popped the pasta in the colandar to drain and placed the now cheese topped bread under the grill. There were a few frantic minutes of trying to simultaneously plate up, clean up the kitchen and keep an eye on the garlic bread but it all came together quite well and I was so proud of my quick dinner!

 

 

It was the first time I’ve really made a homemade pasta sauce and it tasted amazing. I added a sprinkle of cheddar on top as clearly there is not enough cheese in spinach and ricotta tortellini.

 

 

 

 

The garlic bread was amazing due to the award-winning combination of garlic, bread and cheese and I can assure you that not a crumb was left on that plate.

 

 

 

 

Quick, easy, perfect weekday dinner, just what I needed after a long and stressful day. Pasta is one of my top comfort foods and since discovering the wonders of tortellini I am finding it difficult to go back to plain, un-filled pasta shapes.

One of these days I would love to make my own tortellini or ravioli but that, I think, will be the subject of a much longer blog post!

Tesco Tapas! Range

Me and Ben were recently in Tesco doing some shopping before Christmas and fancied a nice easy dinner that would also be a bit special. We noticed a new range in the chilled section and decided to give it a go!

It was the new Tapas! range, a collection of dishes available in a deal – 2 dishes for ยฃ4 or 6 for ยฃ10. We go to La Tasca quite often when they have their 50% off vouchers and love the food there. 6 dishes for ยฃ10 seemed really good value so we got stuck in! Ben is vegetarian so he chose a veggie paella and creamy mushrooms, I chose chorizo croquettes and chicken paella and we decided to share the (vegetarian) spanish omelette and patatas bravas. We also couldn’t resist getting some fresh olives from the deli counter so all in all we had quite a haul!

We eagerly set about cooking the dishes when we got home and found it was really easy. They all had similar cooking times and most just needed 20 minutes or so in the oven so there was no faffing about with timings (ideal when you fancy having a glass or two of wine!) I also quickly made some garlic mayonnaise as aioli is a constant accompaniment to the dishes at La Tasca and we love it! I just crushed a garlic clove into some Hellmans mayonnaise with some salt and pepper, really easy and it tasted lovely! Not quite aioli but good in a pinch!

In no time at all our feast was done and we plated it all up. Ben has just moved into a new house and we don’t have a coffee table yet so we had a little indoor picnic!

The chorizo and cheese croquettes. I was really excited for these but they were actually really bland, I ended up dipping them into my garlic mayonnaise to make them a bit more exciting. A disappointment!

Ben’s paella de verdunas – really nice, lots of little veggies (onions, mushrooms, peas, red pepper) and good amount of flavour. You also got a lot more rice than in the meat paella which was a bonus!

My paella valenciana. Chicken, prawns and spicy chorizo. This was really lovely! Nice heat from the chorizo and a good amount of prawns. Only got two bits of chicken though!

Champinoes al ajillo – Creamy garlic mushrooms. Ben really enjoyed these but we realised some bread would have been nice to use up the last of the sauce. I didn’t try them as I am not fond of mushrooms.

Patatas Bravas. There was no question when we spotted these that we would be adding cheese, we ALWAYS order our patatas bravas con queso when at La Tasca and couldn’t really imagine having them without! These were really lovely, the sauce was quite spicy and there was lots of it so the potatoes weren’t dry at all. Really good sized portion as well, we didn’t finish them!

Tortilla! This was delicious, and huge! Really the best value item in the deal I think, we each had a couple of slices and were full! Lots of yummy leftovers. Spanish Omelettes are quite bland but we added the garlic mayo and ate it with the tomato sauce of the patatas bravas and it was lovely.

Nice shot of our mixed olives, we had a few different types of olives plus strips of red peppers, feta and mozzarella cheeses, marinated artichokes and sundried tomatoes. Nice cooling accompaniment to some of the hotter dishes.

My plate!

Overall we felt this deal was really good value for money and the food was of high quality. Much cheaper than a night at La Tasca as we always get carried away there and order far too much leading to an expensive night, even with a voucher. Much less risky and easier to eat at home and you can BYOB!

Leftovers Sandwich (or create the leftovers, if necessary, I won’t tell)

One of my favourite foods in the whole world is the humble sandwich. I often take sandwiches to work for lunch but I am not a fan of ‘boring’ sandwiches – cheese, cheese and ham, pickle, egg mayo etc…I like to make my sandwiches worth my while and they tend to be really quite special. If I take a boring sandwich to work I am often so uninspired by it by the time 1pm rolls around that I naughtily buy soup or crisps to accompany it, thus negating the whole point of bringing my own healthy lunch and saving money.

So, I spruce my sandwiches up and spend the whole morning eagerly anticipating the moment the clock reads 13.00 and I can fling open the fridge and devour my lovingly prepared meal.ย In my Hello Kitty bento box too of course.ย Wrapped in foil, not clingfilm, I have a funny thing about clingfilm. It just doesn’t look as nice.

One of my all-time top sandwich fillings is one that only presents itself to me a few times a year. When I look in the fridge and realise I have all the components available, the angels are surely smiling down at me. It is of course, the Leftovers Sandwich. Yep, it needs capitals. This particular sammie is rarely found during the spring and summer months, preferring really to lay low until the winter creeps in, the 25th of December to be exact. If you’re lucky you may stumble across this sandwich in it’s wild and unorganised form following a Sunday roast which was rather overcatered for.

This particular sandwich presented itself to me one day in late November when I was, very unusually for me, off workย with a headache and cold. As I stared into the depths of the fridge, willing a lunch to form, I spotted the key components of cold turkey, brie and cranberry sauce. Almost daring not to breathe, I glanced over to the counter silently praying…yep, tiger bread. Lets do this.

First things first, we needed some carbs up in this sammie. What do you mean bread is a carb? Get out. Although we had no leftover roasties (extremely rare in my household) we did have a few new potatoes in the fridge, which to be honest looked to be on the way out so I turned the oven on and got to work slicing. Slug of olive oil, salt and pepper, they went in the oven for about 20 minutes. I sliced the bread, big old thick slices, go hard or go home. Into the toaster it goes.

Once toasted, I spread the bread with cranberry sauce and layered on a couple of slices of lovely creamy brie. Brie + cranberry sauce = The Christmas Dream. I then placed a couple of slices of turkey on the bottom slice of bread and waited very impatiently for my potatoes to be done.

After what felt like DAYS they were perfect, crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. I had of course cooked enough for a family of four so I saved half for a leftover-leftovers sandwich the next day, bonus! I layed the potatoes on the turkey and topped the whole thing with some lovely leaves for a bit of greenery and texture. The top slice of bread was placed carefully on top and I then pressed down on the sandwich slightly to try and encourage some kind of stickage to make for easy lifting. A swift slice down the middle and the Leftovers Sandwich was complete.

 

 

 

I very bravely ate the entire thing but felt very ill afterwards and had to lie down for an hour before I felt recovered enough to tackle the washing up. Very big lunch and I must stress this is not normally what I take for a Tuesday at work! I was off sick and Leftover Sandwiches are incredibly healing. I strongly recommend trying this sammie, really got me in the mood for Christmas!