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™‚

IMG_0098

No New Years Eve would be complete without a shot!

IMG_0096

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

IMG_0087

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.

IMG_0054

IMG_0055

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.

IMG_0058

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˜€

IMG_0057

IMG_0061

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:

IMG_0072

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

And a bit of this:

IMG_0076

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!

IMG_0101

IMG_0100

IMG_0102

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

IMG_0104

IMG_0105

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!

IMG_0122

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!

IMG_0112

IMG_0111

IMG_0115

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.

IMG_0124

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™‚

Homemade Christmas Gifts – Cookies In A Jar, Chocolate Truffles and Chocolate Bark

cookies in a jar row

We moved into our new flat on the 24th November, one month before Christmas. With buying new furniture, appliances and home bits and bobs, together with the initial costs of rent and deposits, we realised we’d be pretty skint for Christmas! So, we decided to try out a few homemade gift ideas I’d seen online for our friends and family. Although we had the best intentions, what actually happened was we made all the homemade gifts (which were not as cheap as we thought they’d be…) and also got everyone additional presents because we kept seeing things they’d like. So, it didn’t really work out how we planned but I really enjoyed making the gifts and everyone we gave them to absolutely loved them. In fact, they couldn’t believe we’d made them! So I was really pleased with how it all turned out.

My favourite one was the Cookies In A Jar which went down an absolute treat πŸ˜€ I used this recipe from Chocablog, mainly because it was English so I didn’t have to convert the measurements! The idea is all the dry ingredients are layered beautifully in the jar and you just need to add an egg, butter and vanilla extract, mix it up in a bowl and voila, you have cookies!

They used chocolate chips as part of the ingredients but I decided we would go one better and make the cookies all colourful and festive! I chose white chocolate, pecans and dried cranberries and the result was really lovely and Christmassy. Funny story – a friend of ours picked up a couple of the Ikea Kilner jars for us to practice on and I began layering the ingredients in the jars, only to find the layers were really not going very far! I’d pretty much finished adding all the ingredients and I was only 1/4 of the way up the jar, what was going on!? I need to add that I was extremely jetlagged at this point after returning from Bali the previous day (amazing work trip, Bali food post coming up in the New Year!!) so was really not in the mood for this to be going wrong for no rational reason. I then double checked the barcode number on the Ikea website and it all became clear when I read out the jar size to Ben – “1.8 L.” The recipe I was working for called for a 1 L and we hadn’t realised it was twice the size. Oops! We went to Ikea the following day to stock up on the correct size jars and we still have that 1.8 L jar on top of the fridge, 1/4 0f the way full with cookie ingredients, to be used on a rainy day. Bonus!

cookie jars

 

Aren’t they beautiful!? I was really pleased with how they came out! I designed the labels in InDesign with a simple snowflake design and the one on the back had the recipe and timings on it. The bows are from Wilkinsons and are actually tree decorations – very handy because they had green wire attached which made it super easy to tie them to the jars! And obviously, they are red polka dot, so very me/very Polka Dot Kitchen!

cookie label

 

back of cookie jar label

 

The ingredients layered up perfectly and I added enough chocolate chunks to fill the jar and stop the contents from shifting too much in transition.

IMG_5856

 

Overall, this was a fantastic Christmas gift and all our friends and family loved it. My colleague has already baked the cookies and she said they were delicious and didn’t last very long at all! A very successful present, I recommend. We didn’t work out all the costings but the jars were 80p each, the bows were 25p and I would estimate the ingredients to be about Β£2.50/Β£3? Most of which is the pecans which are one of the most expensive nuts I’ve ever come across!! The nice thing about these though is that the recipe is really flexible; you can really add whatever toppings you like to the base ingredients and I think they’d turn out perfectly!

We also made chocolate truffles with various toppings/coatings and piled 6/7 in a smaller kilner jar as a gift. I followed Gordon Ramsey’s recipe minus the honey and mint and they turned out perfectly, if a little moist. I substituted 250ml double cream for the single as I’d bought a big carton of double but I didn’t think that would affect the consistency? I guess it did! Anyway, they were tricky to work with but we froze the baking dish for 20 minutes or so before making the mixture into truffles and that firmed it up nicely. We dipped some of the truffles in cocoa powder, some in melted white chocolate and some in chopped mixed nuts. They were beautiful! I very cleverly didn’t take a photograph of the finished truffles in the jars but here are a few photos of the creation process!

IMG_5841

IMG_5842

IMG_5843

IMG_5845

IMG_5847

 

Beautiful! These were also very warmly welcomed by our friends and family and everyone who has tried them so far has loved them! We gave our friend Jason a jar on Boxing Day and they didn’t even make it back to his house!

Finally, we made white chocolate bark. This seriously is the easiest treat to make, ever. We had leftover white chocolate from making the truffles so I melted it, spread it on a baking tray quite thickly and sprinkled mixed chopped nuts, cashew nuts and dried cranberries all over. An hour in the fridge and it was set enough for me to break into pieces and pop into a couple of jars. Once again I was a very bad blogger and forgot to photograph it but I did somehow take some photos of it waiting to go into the jar!?

IMG_5901

IMG_5899

chocolate bark

There we have it! Three beautiful homemade gifts that I’m sure your friends and family will appreciate so much due to the love and thought that has gone into them πŸ™‚ Merry Christmas everyone! Christmas and general 2012 in review posts coming up!

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 πŸ™‚ 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! Β 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!