New Years Eve 2012

As mentioned last year, I’m just not a fan of New Years Eve. It annoys me. Christmas, however…now you’re talking! I love every little thing about the festive season and it always begins, for me, November 1st, not a moment later. It would begin slightly earlier but alas, Halloween is also a very big part of my life and I just can’t encroach on those fun, spooky and ghoul-filled happenings.

Ahhhh, Christmas. Decorations, fairy lights, Christmas music that I start listening to in November and get sick of by November the 12th but continue to blare out in my car nonetheless, lie-ins, family time, the Christmas Radio Times, TV specials, parties, special sparkly outfits, cinnamon candles, bucks fizz, red nail polish, gift-wrapping, the smells of mince pies baking in the oven, The Snowman, and most importantly, the endless amounts of delicious party food, cheeseboards, crisps and general nibbly bits that are happily available at every house you visit for two glorious weeks.

Christmas Eve was always my favourite day as a child, I preferred it to Christmas Day! Something about the dizzying levels of anticipation that built up throughout the day until I felt I would burst just made it the best day for me.

We had a lovely Christmas this year. Myself and Ben were lucky enough to have a good two weeks off together and then I had a few more days on my own once he went back to work. I felt seriously relaxed by the end of the break and happy that we’d seen so many of our friends and family. I was spoilt rotten this year with prezzies and we also both got so many lovely presents for our flat from our thoughtful families πŸ™‚ I’m sure many of the kitchen gadgets will be appearing on the blog over the next few months!

The only thing I don’t like about Christmas is that it seems to get shorter every year 😦 This year, by the end of Boxing Day I was seeing people’s Facebook status’s expressing their desire to take their tree’s down and ‘get the house back to normal’!! I was shocked!! Our decs stayed up til January the 6th, the day before I went back to work, and let me tell you it was a very emotional day. I think our flat looks so bare without our trees (yes, we had two trees!!) and I’ve found I’m severely lacking in ornaments now I’ve boxed all the Christmas ones! I definitely need to get some new ones. Me and Ben are also at war over our Yankee Candles; I feel cinnamon is a year-round smell as I absolutely love it, whereas Benj feels it is now time to put away the cinnamon scents and bring out the lemon/linen/general Spring like fragrances. We’ve yet to come to a compromise…

We spent New Years Eve in our lovely flat, just the two of us. I was very, very pleased we’d made this decision once the day arrived, as it was freezing cold and watching the rain fall through our windows was a lot more enjoyable than being out in it πŸ™‚

So, what was on the menu? Obviously, I wanted to cook something special, something we don’t have very often. For me, this is steak. I only ever have steak if we go out to eat and it is a bit of a treat for me. We also decided on potato dauphinoise, our absolute favourite side-dish in the history of side-dishes. Ben asked for mushroom wellington and we added tenderstem broccoli to finish off our main course. I really wanted scallops for my starter and I had the genius idea to use Linda McCartney fish-free prawns in Ben’s starter, so we could have the same thing! We opted to use a chocolate fondue kit that we’d received for Christmas as our dessert, although we silently resigned ourselves to the fact that we almost definitely wouldn’t be able to manage it, we never can!

I used my new Canon EOS 1100D to take the photos this evening and I was extremely pleased by how they came out even with my minimal photography knowledge, what a fantastic camera! Thank you Santa πŸ™‚

The makings of a perfect evening πŸ™‚

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No New Years Eve would be complete without a shot!

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And carrying on with the Disney theme, Ben used our beautiful Mickey bottle opener to crack open some cider as we began cooking.

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We had made the dauph earlier on in the day and as is my style, used a completely new recipe/technique in an ongoing attempt to make the perfect dauphinoise potatoes. If my memory serves me correctly, this time we:

1. Sliced the potatoes really thin (using the RocketChef…see below)

2. Boiled the cream/milk mixture til it was hot, with about 4 garlic gloves crushed in there (I’m not even joking.)

3. Started to then boil the sliced potatoes in the hot cream mixture to start them off but got impatient at the tiny amounts of potato we could boil at any one time due to the size of our saucepan, gave up and just chucked the potatoes back into the dish. So technically, 1/5 of the potatoes had been boiled for a bit in cream but the rest went in the oven raw. I also HEAVILY seasoned each layer of potato, mixed them around a bit with a wooden spoon and then heavily seasoned again. We do not like bland dauph!

I then cooked them extremely low, like 120, for 2 hours. One hour covered in foil, one without. While they were cooking, we cracked on with the rest of the dinner!

I made Ben’s mushroom wellington first of all. I panfried a washed, dried portobello mushroom with a garlic clove just to give it some flavour. I then laid the portobello mushroom on a square of ready-made puff pastry and this formed the base of the wellington. I topped it with a mixture of spinach, chopped onions and chopped mushrooms which was all sauteed together for about 20 minutes with garlic and lots of salt and pepper. Finally, I added a big spoonful of cream cheese to the top of the mushroom mixture and covered the whole thing with another square of puff pastry. It was very easy to make and I hoped that the addition of cream cheese would elevate it to something quite special. Ben loves mushrooms and he REALLY loves pastry, so he was pretty psyched.

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Next up were our starters. Scallops in a garlic butter gratin for me, prawn-free prawns in a garlic butter for Benj! I mixed together butter, lots of crushed garlic, parsley and chilli flakes.

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We then realised we needed bread crumbs and we didn’t have a food processor. Enter – RocketChef!! I don’t know if anyone else has come across this little beauty but it’s a kitchen gadget from the 80’s we were kindly gifted by my Aunt, alongside a number of other exciting and very niche appliances. We’re going to have to really think about which appliances we’ll use going forward; at the moment we’ve got a whole two cupboards devoted to gadgets that I’m really not convinced we’ll ever need! But we shall see. The RocketChef, however, is a definite keeper. It’s amazing. Ben played around with the different blade options and in no time at all, we had fine breadcrumbs. We also used it later on with a different attachment to slice our potatoes!! Plus I love how catchy and just obviously 80’s the name RocketChef is. I like to pretend it was the star prize on The Price Is Right or something and we were lucky enough to win it πŸ˜€

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I mixed the breadcrumbs in with the butter and saved a bit to top the ramekin dishes before we baked them. I then layered flash-fried scallops in one ramekin and the veggie prawns in another, dotted the butter mixture around them and the starters were done! Super easy.

With most of our prep work done, we settled down to play the Big Fat Quiz Of The Year via 4OD, pens and paper in hand.

Not before we had a bit of this:

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(I was dancing to Single Ladies, can you tell?)

And a bit of this:

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At about 9.30 after the Quiz finished (neither of us can remember who won…but I do know I did better than I have ever done!!) we wandered back into the kitchen to start final proceedings on dinner.

We roasted the broccoli and I cooked my steak, on a frying pan, 2.5 minutes on each side for medium rare. It was perfect! I used St Agur for my blue cheese sauce and at 10pm we were ready to eat. We’d eaten late on purpose as I often get really tired after a big meal and just want to sleep so if we’d have eaten at 6 I wouldn’t have seen midnight!!

We ate at our dining table with some of Ben’s favourite folk music playing and lots of lovely scented candles burning. Perfect πŸ™‚

The starter was, quite frankly, phenomenal. That much butter in a single starter should possibly be illegal but oh my god, was it amazing. The scallops had almost been poached in the butter and as a result were silky and soft. I also loved the fact that we were both eating nearly the same thing – that almost never happens!

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Then, the main event…mushroom wellington, dauphinoise potatoes and tenderstem broccoli for Benjamin.

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The pastry was flaky and buttery, the mushroom firm and garlicy and the mushroom mixture and cream cheese helped keep it all moist and flavourful on the inside. I was ridiculously pleased with how this turned out and I’ll be whipping this bad boy out if we ever have a posh dinner party as I think it really looks the part!

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And, my steak. Sainsburys Taste the Difference sirloin, medium rare. With only salt and pepper as seasonings, the flavour of the beef shone through. I’ve waxed lyrical about my love affair with steak and blue cheese sauce but the combination really is divine! And the dauph? The best yet!! Cooking the potato soooo slooowwlllyyy meant we were rewarded for our patience with rich, soft, creamy potatoes and a silky smooth sauce that did not curdle, I repeat, DID NOT CURDLE! It was a miracle. And they were also lovely the following day!

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Perfectly cooked. I can’t remember which chef told me 2.5 minutes on each side for medium rare, I think it may have been Mr Ramsey, but it is the best advice. A searing hot pan too! Things got a little smokey but we are blessed with an extractor fan, a window and a large kitchen so it really wasn’t an issue.

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As predicted, we were way too full for dessert, I could barely manage to drag myself out of my chair and move the 3 foot to the sofa. We finished eating and clearing away at about 11.15, so there was just enough time to write out our resolutions for the coming year, reflect on the highs and lows of 2012 and grab a glass of bubbly before the countdown started. We welcomed in the New Year in our beautiful new flat, congratulating ourselves on a fantastic end to 2012 andΒ cheer’sing to 2013.

I feel so lucky to finally be living with my boy after nearly 9 years as a couple and every day I wake up and can’t believe we’re actually in here. I’m also thrilled to have such an incredible new job that has already exceeded my expectations by sending me to Bali for a week last November (still can’t believe that!!). I’m looking forward to a lot of things in 2013; first and foremost our 3 week trip to Florida in October which I just know is going to be spectacular. It’s the Happiest Place On Earth!! I’ve already started the planning spreadsheet so I’ll be spending a lot of my 2013 evenings tucked up on the sofa, Orlando guidebooks surrounding me and The Dibb on my laptop. I can’t even wait!! I’m also excited about the possibility that we may be getting a furry friend to join us in our new flat this year…I’ve wanted a kitten for so long and we are lucky enough to have found a flat that allows pets (SCORE!!) so we’ll be doing lots of research and I’ll be trying to persuade Benj that these beautiful babies make the perfect pets πŸ˜‰ We’ll probably wait til after Florida though as I wouldn’t want t0 leave her all on her lonesome for so long!

Happy New Year everyone! Here’s to a fantastic 2013 πŸ™‚

Crazy Cheesy Baked Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

A couple of weeks ago I was craving something cheesy, creamy and pasta-y. I searched my new Nigellissima book for a recipe but nothing quite hit the spot, so I just decided to make it up. Interestingly, whilst Googling, most of the American blogs were showing something that looked very similar to what I know as cannelloni, but calling it manicotti. This sounded way more exciting so I was calling it baked manicotti all the way through the cooking process til Ben said “…sooo, it is just cannelloni?” Yes babe, yes it is. Cannelloni!

Although the dried cannelloni tubes were super cheap in Sainsburys, I decided to go for the fresh lasagna sheets instead, thinking it would be easier to roll the filling up in them rather than trying to stuff it into little skinny shells. On reflection, we realised we could just buy the cheap dried lasagna sheets and boil them til they are pliable, to achieve the same effect. The fresh lasagna sheets were delicious but they were pretty expensive and quite frankly, January is not the time to be chucking money at fresh ready-made pasta!

I started off the filling mixture by sauteing garlic and fresh basil leaves in olive oil, to infuse the oil which would in turn flavour the spinach. I’ve learnt with spinach you have to add a lotttttt of seasoning otherwise it can be incredibly bland. I love the flavour of spinach on it’s own but it really is better with a bit of garlic, salt and pepper.

I’m afraid we are briefly reverting back to iPhone photos as I did not have my new camera at this point!

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Note the basil, which came from our little herb windowsill! (Ben’s Herb Box has yet to be re-filled this year!)

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I then added the spinach (I used frozen, defrosted in the microwave as it’s how I roll) and cooked it for a few minutes in the oil.

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I then added the spinach mixture to a bowl of ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, 2 beaten eggs and seasoning. I let this sit for a little bit while I made the tomato sauce.

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The tomato ‘sauce’ is just a couple of cartons of chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, fresh basil and seasoning. I let it simmer for about 15 minutes until it thickened.

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And then, it was just a case of layering! I’m very sad and really enjoy this bit; such satisfaction to see the final product! I laid out the fresh pasta sheets and spooned the mixture along one of the edges.

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Then I rolled it up! And laid them all in a lasagna dish next to each other, like little sardines in a tin!

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I then poured the tomato sauce all over the tubes, making sure they were all covered so we wouldn’t get any nasty burnt bits on the edges.

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Then covered it all with MORE CHEESE! You really can never have enough cheese in a recipe. Although, this recipe is just about my limit for cheesiness, you have been warned! I think only our baked tortellini dish is cheesier…and that is a whole new level of cheesiness.

I used medium cheddar, expertly grated by my boyfriend as I cannot be trusted with our Ikea grater (the first time I used it I grated the heel of my hand and still have the scar…it was deep.) followed by a generous sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

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25 minutes later (quite a short cooking time as the pasta is fresh!) I lifted this beauty out of the oven.

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(I love how in my photos it looks like I’m cooking for a family of 6 and in reality it is just me and Ben)

It was perfect! It was a real medley of textures with a lovely crunchy, cheesy topping, al dente pasta and smooth, creamy filling. It was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten and I’ve battled not to make it every night since.

And heres a confession – I confidently piled two tubes onto my plate with some nice fresh, crunchy salad to balance the richness. And shock horror, I could only eat one!!!! The cheesiness really did beat me and I had to admit defeat and return my second tube to the baking dish, head hung in shame. This dish served two of us for 2 nights and 1 lunch! Pretty impressive.

Next time I make this, I’m going to make a few changes. As previously mentioned, I’m going to use dried lasagna sheets and boil them. Not only are these a lot cheaper than fresh pasta sheets but I also think they’ll look nicer than the fresh ones. They are long and thin and will produce much shorter tubes, leading to a much less daunting plateful!

I’d also like to try and make the filling in general a bit cheaper; I already used frozen spinach instead of fresh seeing as I had some in the freezer and I’m also going to experiment with different cheeses. We were shocked at the price of cottage cheese! I’m not even joking! Crazy money. I think playing around with low fat cream cheese would work quite well. The ricotta isn’t too obscenely priced (I think it was Β£1 for 250g?) and is an essential ingredient so I’ll let that one slide.

Overall this was an insanely delicious dinner and I think I even preferred it to lasagna! And I REALLY like lasagna. Give it a go if you like cheese even the tiniest bit, you will not be disappointed.