Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cook Club

About a year ago, 6 of us (3 couples) started what was to be known as ‘the cook club’. The point of this ‘cook club’ is to take it in turns to host a monthly dinner party, with the hosts choosing the theme of the night and the other 2 couples simply turning up with a bottle of wine as requested by the hosts! It works really well and is a fantastic opportunity to eat different cuisines as well as a great excuse to get together. So far we have indulged in French, Indian, Italian, Spanish and Moroccan meals (the latter being the most memorable since Hayley went into labour the following morning, a month early!!).

Since we have all been so busy over the summer, we had to take a break for a few months but thankfully we were able to start it up again last weekend. It was our turn to host and since it happened to be Labour day weekend (or the ‘official’ end of summer), I decided that it would be appropriate for the theme to be ‘summer’ or more accurately a menu using the last of the summer ingredients. After much consideration I came up with the following menu:

Lettuce Soup with Pea Crostini

Goats Cheese Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Fresh Cherry Sauce on a bed of Mixed Salad Leaves with Crispy Lemon Thyme and Garlic Potatoes

Strawberry Cheesecake

The meal was a great success despite the suns lack of cooperation, and rather than sitting out to eat sipping lemon drops, we were relegated inside with a lovely vase of sunflowers providing the rays of light! All in all, the menu worked well, it was great to catch up with everyone and it was good to get the cook club started again – roll on October!

Lettuce Soup with Pea Crostini

Serves 6 - 8

For the soup:
1oz/ 30g butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely sliced
1 leek, cleaned & finely sliced
2 clove of garlic, crushed
2 potatoes, peeled & cut into cubes
1500ml/ 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 heads of lettuce, washed & torn
4oz/ 115g/ 1 cup frozen peas
Salt & pepper
125ml/ ½ cup whipping or double cream, plus extra for garnish

For the crostini: (makes enough for 6-8 servings plus extra)
7 ¼ oz/ 200g frozen peas
1 clove of garlic, roughly chopped
6 basil leaves
Juice & zest of ½ lemon
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Handful of freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 spring (green) onion, finely sliced
Salt & pepper
French baguette or ciabatta, thinly sliced

Start by making the soup. Melt the butter with the oil in a large pan. Add the onion and leek and sauté for roughly 5 minutes until it has softened. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute before adding the potatoes. Cover with a tight-fitting lid then leave to cook over a medium-low heat for 10 minutes so that they start to soften, stirring from time to time to make sure the potatoes aren’t sticking or burning. Add the stock and season with salt and pepper, turn up the heat to medium then continue to cook for another 10 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through. Once they are ready add the lettuce and peas and allow it to just wilt before removing from the heat. Leave to cool slightly then puree with a handheld blended or liquidizer. Transfer into a clean pan and add the cream.

To make the pea crostini, cook the peas in a pan of boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain then put the peas in a bowl with ice cold water to stop them from cooking further. Add the peas, garlic, basil, lemon zest and juice, olive oil and a good pinch of salt and pepper to a food processor and blend until smooth. Put the pureed peas into a small bowl then add the parmesan cheese and the sliced green onion. Taste to check the seasoning and adjust if necessary.
Drizzle the slices of bread with some olive oil then toast on a griddler or under a grill under golden brown then top with a good spoonful of the pureed peas.

When ready to serve reheat the soup then add a swirl of cream. Place a pea crostini in the middle of each bowl and finish with a little drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Goats Cheese Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Fresh Cherry Sauce

Serves 6

2 Pork tenderloins
200g soft Goats cheese
Zest of ½ lemon & a squeeze of juice
2 tbsp fresh basil, finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 tsp Extra Virgin Olive oil
Salt & Pepper
Butchers twine to tie the pork

For the cherry sauce:
Drizzle of olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 small clove of garlic, crushed
14oz/ 400g/ 2 cups fresh cherries
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
200ml/ 1 1/3 cup red wine
125ml/ ½ cup water
Salt & Pepper

To serve:
Mixed salad leaves (enough for 6-8 people)
½ red onion, thinly sliced
Handful of fresh cherries

Start by making the cherry sauce. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a small pan then gently sauté the shallot until softened – about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute before adding the cherries. Stir well then add the balsamic vinegar and cook until it has almost completely reduced. Add the wine, water and seasoning and leave to gently simmer, covered for roughly 30 minutes. Remove the lid and continue simmering for another 15 minutes or so before removing from the heat. Allow the sauce to cool then puree ¾ of it in a blender or using a handheld blender. Add the blended sauce back to the pan with the remaining sauce. Stir well and taste to check the seasoning then keep warm until ready to serve.

To make the filling mix the goats cheese, lemon zest, juice, basil, parsley, olive oil and a good pinch of black pepper together in a small bowl (it’s easiest to use a fork to soften up the goats cheese.) Taste to check the seasoning and if needed add a little pinch of salt.

Butterfly the pork tenderloins so that they open like a book. Season with salt and pepper then spread half of the goats cheese mixture on to each tenderloin. Roll the tenderloins back together then tie with some butchers twine to secure and keep the filling inside. Season the outside of the pork with some more salt and pepper and drizzle over a little olive oil.

Preheat the oven to 400F/ 200C. When ready to cook the pork, heat a large, non-stick saucepan and add an extra drizzle of olive oil. Sear the meat for a couple of minutes on each side until golden brown then remove from the pan and put onto a baking sheet. Cook in the oven for 18 minutes then remove, cover loosely with foil and leave to rest for a good 5 minutes or so.

When ready to serve the pork arrange the mixed salad leaves on a large platter and scatter over the thinly sliced onion. Slice the pork into roughly 1 inch pieces and arrange on top of the salad leaves. Drizzle over the cherry sauce and garnish with the whole cherries. Serve at once with crispy thyme and garlic potatoes and any extra sauce.

Crispy Lemon Thyme & Garlic Potatoes

6 medium potatoes, cleaned
3 tbsp olive oil (or garlic olive oil if you have it)
1 tbsp lemon thyme leaves (or ordinary thyme)
Zest of ½ lemon
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Salt and Pepper

Preheat the oven to 400F/200C. Cut the potatoes into small (bite sized) pieces that are all roughly the same size. Place the potatoes on a large baking sheet and drizzle with the olive oil then sprinkle over the thyme leaves and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper then toss the potatoes well so that they are all evenly coated. Cook for approx. 40minutes, turning half way through cooking. Remove from the oven then sprinkle over the garlic. Cook for another 5 minutes or until the potatoes are nicely roasted and golden on the outside. Serve immediately.

*Cheesecake recipe to follow!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Tomatoes - It's a love/hate relationship

Since the tomato season is in full force I have been eating even more tomatoes than I normally do – poor Mr. Vanilla. What I should probably mention and have failed to do so so far, is that Mr. Vanilla and I have a love/hate relationship with tomatoes.

As you have probably guessed I am the one that loves tomatoes. And when I say love, I mean love! They definitely top my list of ingredients I can’t live without (give me a delicious fresh tomato, mozzarella and basil salad and I will be your best friend) and I eat them on an almost daily basis. Mr. Vanilla on the other hand…….not so much. I blame his sister entirely since she decided when they were both young that she didn’t like them and persuaded her younger, impressionable brother that they were disgusting and not to be eaten!! In her defence now, she actually seems to have more of an allergic reaction to them so her not eating them is fair enough. Mr. Vanilla just never got over his hatred for them.

Now when I say he hates them, I should be more specific – he hates the texture of them, not the flavour. He will eat a homemade tomato sauce but it has to be pureed so that it is smooth and has “no chunks”! On this basis the majority of the time I now use passata or crushed tomatoes because as a tomato lover it takes a lot of love for your other half to puree a beautiful fresh tomato sauce to a pulp every time, however I guess it is good training for me for when the baby comes along!

I have tried in vain to get him to get over his dislike but he point blank refuses, so for the time being it is pureed tomato sauces when I cook for both of us, and as soon as he is away lots and lots of fresh, “chunky” tomatoes for me! This week I gave in to the beautiful bowl of fresh cherry tomatoes on my counter and made spaghetti with cherry tomato sauce for me and spaghetti carbonara for Mr. Vanilla – perfect mid-week meals as they are fast and delicious and kept both of us very, very happy!

Spaghetti with Cherry Tomato Sauce

Serves 2 generously

7oz/ 200g spaghetti
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (not your best olive oil), plus a little extra to drizzle
1 clove of garlic, finely sliced
½ - 1 red chilli, finely sliced
10oz/ fresh cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered (try and use a variety of colours if you can)
½ tsp sugar (optional)
1 tsp red wine vinegar
Salt & pepper
6 basil leaves, shredded
Freshly grated parmesan cheese

Cook the spaghetti in a large pan of boiling, salted water according to the timing on the packet. While the spaghetti is cooking, heat the 2 tbsp of olive oil in a frying pan then add the garlic and chilli and sizzle gently for roughly one minute, being careful not to brown the garlic. Add the tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, salt and pepper and cook over a medium heat until the spaghetti is ready and the tomatoes have softened slightly and are just starting to ‘pop’. Drain the spaghetti, reserving a tablespoon of the cooking water then add to the tomatoes and toss well so that every strand of spaghetti is covered with the delicious sauce. Sprinkle over the shredded basil and serve at once with an extra drizzle of olive oil and some freshly grated parmesan cheese.
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