Monday, August 30, 2010

Fresh Basil Pesto

Another recipe re-do but when I first posted this I also included several other recipes and quite honestly it was just too large of a post with too many recipes put together on one page. Therefore after a little editing, cutting and pasting I am happy that this page is now devoted entirely to my recipe for Fresh Basil Pesto, after all the King of all Pesto's deserves it's own page to shine! The rest of the post is kept as I originally wrote it two years ago as I didn't want to change things too much. The recipe for my Mint Pesto will be re-posted again soon and you can find the Spicy Red Pesto here.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

New Look!

After a few days of playing around, updating and organising I’m very excited about the new look of my blog! You should now find it much easier to navigate as there are separate pages for recipes, links and a page featuring the books I am reading just now. The recipes page is my favourite as you can now see all of the recipes that I have featured on my blog with each recipe linking directly to the relevant post/recipe! My next step is to start including more photographs of the recipes as I know how much I like to be able to see photos of how things are supposed to look, so bare with me as I try to learn the basics of food photography (and resist from eating everything first!). I have also included links with facebook and twitter so if you know anyone that you think might also enjoy reading it, you can now easily share it with them. And don’t forget, if you enjoy reading my blog regularly you can sign up to become a follower – just follow the instructions at the side, it doesn’t take long!

I hope you like the new look as much as I do and welcome any comments you have about it.

Thanks and enjoy x

Feeling crabby?!?

One of Mr. Vanilla's all-time favourite meals is fresh crab, so since it had been a while, off we headed on Saturday to buy two rather large crabs. The fishmonger killed and cleaned the crabs for us satisfying both of our dislikes….mine being the fact that I just can’t put live crabs into a boiling pot of water (not necessarily because of the killing aspect, more so because I have a real dislike of live crabs) and Mr. Vanilla's strong dislike to cooking the crabs with “all of the gross processing parts still inside of them” (I know!!). Anyway, needs met and crabs freshly killed, cleaned and packed in a large bag of ice we went straight home eagerly awaiting our evening feast.

So why the dislike to live crabs when obviously I am perfectly happy to eat them? Well I have to say it is due 100 percent to the fact that when I was 10 I had a rather unfortunate encounter with a very feisty crab. I was on holiday with my best friend and her family in Tayvallich, a small fishing village on the West coast of Scotland. One particular day we went out on her dad’s small boat where we stopped at a beautiful bay for a swim and picnic. (I remember Susie telling me the bay was called Jellyfish Bay….I’m not sure now if that is what it is actually called or that was a name her family came up with due to the hundreds of jelly fish you glided over on the way there!) We docked on the sandy beach and our life jackets were thrown off with complete abandonment as we ran into the icy cold water and swam and splashed and practised one handed handstands while holding our noses with the other hand! Just as we were getting ready to come out I was wading towards the shore when I spotted something very large and orange to the side of me. I stopped dead in my tracks so I could have a proper look and got the fright of my life when I saw this giant crab scuttling towards me at an alarming rate! I tried to get away….first by running in the water (yeah right!) then by trying to jump up and get my feet away from those twitching razor sharp claws….try as I might, nothing was working and my panic induced escape plan failed miserably….the feisty crab was on a mission and nothing was going to stop it until it snapped its giant claws around my foot. My yelp of pain signified its victory as it clamped onto my heel slowly turning the cool, clear water red with blood. That was twenty one years go so as you can see I never really did get over my crab attack and I am still hesitant around the evil little things! Too bad it didn’t stop me from liking to eat them though!

When it comes to eating crabs, I have to admit there is something very satisfying about having to work to get your food. While some people might find cracking the shells and picking out the glorious meat too much work, I really enjoy it – I think it makes you appreciate your rewards even more. It is messy but it is good! I also find there are two kinds of people when it comes to eating crab….those that eat it as soon as they have pried the meat from the shell (Mr. Vanilla) and then there are those that stockpile…working hard to create a nice big pile of crabmeat that can then be devoured without any interruptions (me). Regardless of how you do it, if you have never eaten fresh crab before you have to try it….more work than a lobster, but for me anyway, a sweeter, richer taste. Decide for yourself….

Steamed Crab with a Trio of Dipping Sauces

The sauces will make plenty but it’s better to have too much than too little! It also just depends how much butter or aioli you like to dunk your crab into. These sauces are definitely not for the calorie conscious but if you would prefer a healthier alternative nothing beats just a good spritz of lemon juice.

2 large crabs, killed & cleaned (ours were roughly 2lbs each)
Lemon wedges to serve

To cook the crabs I just steamed them (using only water) for 15 minutes in a large pan (since they were already cut in half, 15 minutes was perfect). If you prefer though, you can boil them for 15 - 20 minutes instead. When the crabs are ready remove from the pan and leave to cool for a couple of minutes. Serve with lemon wedges and the dipping sauces, and don’t forget a bowl for throwing the shells into!

Garlic Butter:
115g/ 4oz unsalted butter
1 large clove of garlic, crushed
Squeeze of lemon juice
Small pinch of salt & pepper

Melt the butter in a small pan along with the garlic. Squeeze in a little lemon juice and a pinch of salt and pepper. Keep warm (and melted!) until ready to dip.

Chilli, lime & ginger butter:
115g/ 4oz unsalted butter
1 small clove of garlic, crushed
1 red chilli, deseeded & finely chopped
½ tsp fresh ginger, grated
Zest & juice of ½ lime
Pinch of salt & pepper

Melt the butter in a small pan along with the garlic, chill, ginger and lime zest. Squeeze in the lime juice and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Keep warm (and melted!) until ready to dip.

Cheat’s Aioli:

I make this cheat’s aioli for so many different things – I absolutely love it. Even better, it only takes 30 seconds to make.

125ml mayonnaise
1 clove of garlic, crushed
Squeeze of lemon juice
Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
Freshly grated black pepper

Simply mix everything together in a small bowl – easy but so good!

As delicious as eating a whole steamed crab is, being the carbivore that I am, my favourite way to eat fresh crab is tossed through hot linguine with some garlic, chilli, lemon and olive oil. Original….no, but classic and delicious – yes! Luckily for us, I only ate half of my crab on Saturday so on Monday night I used the rest of it to have it my favourite way – Linguine with crab.

Linguine with Crab & Pea Shoots

I used pea shoots for a change as I had a box of them in the fridge and I have to say I will be using them from now on! They are so delicious and the subtle taste of fresh peas compliments the crab perfectly. Another quintessential summer dish!

Serves 2 (easily doubled)

200g/ 7oz linguine
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 long red chilli, finely chopped
115g/ 4oz fresh crab meat (that was all that I had left but you could easily use more if you have it!)
Juice of ½ large lemon
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
30g/ 1oz pea shoots – or you can use rocket (arugula) or watercress (optional)
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling, salted water, according to the packet instructions. While the pasta is cooking, in a small bowl mix together the garlic, chilli, crab, lemon juice and olive oil. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Just before you drain the cooked pasta add 2 tablespoons of the water to your crab mixture – this just loosens the sauce slightly and helps it stick to the linguine.

Drain the pasta then return it to the pan you cooked it in. Toss through the crab mixture then at the last minute add the pea shoots reserving a few for garnish. Serve at once with the reserved pea shoots scattered on top and a final drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Bare with me!

For those of you that regularly check you have probably noticed I have made some changes to my blog! I'm almost finished so bare with me just a little longer....I'm so excited as it is going to be much easier to navigate with direct links to all of my recipes as well as books that I am reading and links to some of my favourite blogs. Thanks for your patience, I'm almost done! x

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A little Asian Inspiration

It’s funny, but despite the hot weather I have been craving a Thai curry for a while now. It’s not the comfort that you get from a hot, steaming bowl of Thai curry that I want, but instead the vibrant, cleansing appeal of the aromatic ginger, lemongrass and fragrant lime leaves, mixed with the spiky heat of a hot red chilli that I am craving. For me there is something so wonderful about the combination of lime and chilli and when you add to that some fresh ginger and lemongrass it is bliss. As Sophie Dahl put it, they are a “life affirming collection of flavours” and how very true that is!

Whether your summer is filled with long, summer days and balmy evenings or feels more like a cold, rainy October, this curry is guaranteed to please and will rejuvenate your soul, whatever the weather. I like my curry to be quite runny so that I can literally ladle the deliciously fragrant coconut sauce over my rice, therefore drenching it and letting it absorb all of that soothing Thai goodness. This is without doubt mood enhancing food at its finest!

Thai Red Curry with Chicken & Bamboo Shoots

A few things to note with my curry recipe…..The first is, as mentioned above I like my sauce to be runny and verging on soup-like. If you prefer a thicker curry, just reduce it for a little longer before adding your chicken. Which brings me to my next point - I always tend to use chicken breasts as normally that is what I have in the freezer. When using chicken breasts you just want to add them at the end so that they don’t overcook and dry out. If you don’t like that idea and would rather just add the chicken and let the sauce simmer away without much attention, opt for boneless and skinless chicken thighs, which will remain moist. Finally, a word of warning about Thai curry pastes. They can vary enormously in heat so until you are familiar with your curry paste of choice, go easy. It’s easy to add, but not so easy to take away! Although my recipe says 2 tablespoons, the paste I use is fairly mild. I would recommend starting with 2 teaspoons and take it from there. A lot of my ingredients are also found in the curry paste, but I just find the addition of them as well as they paste makes for a really aromatic and full flavoured curry.

Serves 4

1 tbsp peanut or vegetable oil
1 onion, finely sliced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 fresh red chilli, finely sliced
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated
2 tbsp red Thai curry paste (depending on how hot it is)
2 x 400ml Coconut Milk
1-2 tsp sugar (use Palm sugar if you can)
2 tbsp fish sauce
4 lime leaves, torn
2 sticks of lemongrass, each cut into 4 large pieces
1 lime, plus extra lime wedges to serve
4 chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
1 tin of bamboo shoots
3 tbsp coriander (including stalks), chopped, plus extra for garnish
2 fresh chillies, finely sliced, to garnish

In a large frying pan or wok, heat the oil then add the onion and gently sauté for a few minutes. Add the garlic, 1 chilli and the ginger and continue to cook for a couple of minutes then add the paste and cook for a minute to release all the fragrances. Add the coconut milk, sugar, fish sauce, lime leaves, lemon grass and the juice of half the lime and leave to simmer gently for about 20-30 minutes, until it has thickened slightly. Taste the sauce at this point to check for seasoning and heat. If you find it is too spicy add a touch more sugar as this will neutralize the heat, if it needs more salt add more fish sauce. Add the chicken and cook for a few minutes before adding the bamboo shoots, half of the coriander and a final spritz of lime, then cook for a further 4-5 minutes or until the chicken is properly cooked through.

When the curry is ready to serve ladle into bowls then scatter over the remaining coriander and fresh chilli. Serve with Jasmine rice and lime wedges.

*If you prefer, remove the lemon grass pieces and lime leaves before you serve.

* For a vegetarian option, omit the chicken and add your favourite vegetables instead! Red peppers, mushrooms, green beans, sugar snap peas and butternut squash are all delicious with this curry.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Ice, ice baby!

Well after last week’s menu featuring Pavlova, I had to do these recipes next. Pavlova requires six egg whites meaning conveniently that you have six beautiful egg yolks left over, just pleading to be made into a delicious, velvety smooth ice cream! And as if I needed any more excuses, it is summer and you can’t have summer without ice cream! Ok, enough said, I am more than convinced.

Although the thought of making ice cream can be daunting, it really isn’t bad. I will be honest however and say that if you have an ice cream maker it certainly makes life a lot easier when it comes to freezing and churning the ice cream, however it can still be done without one, it just requires a little extra work.

There are two pieces of advice I can give when it comes to making ice cream. The first is to make sure that when it comes to stirring the custard, you can allow yourself up to 20 minutes of complete peace and quiet - in other words, absolutely no interruptions. With that said you must also not be in an inpatient mood as it does take time. Instead you want to be in the sort of tranquil mood where you are happy to stand and serenely stir the custard watching it slowly change from a thin liquid to a pale yellow, velvety smooth, custard.

The second piece of advice is, although eating ice cream is probably at its most appealing on a hot summer day, making it on a hot summer day certainly isn’t. I’ve fallen into that trap a couple of times and each time I think to myself, why on earth am I standing at a hot oven constantly stirring away and therefore surrounding myself in heat for 20 minutes when I’m already hot!! If you have no choice and are at the mercy of the weather then I can only suggest making it early in the morning, or late in the evening when it isn’t quite so hot. Of course if you are one of the lucky few that have air conditioning in your home, you can ignore this second piece of advice completely and I can be very jealous of you!

So there you go – advice dispensed! Having said that, I also have to say that really making ice cream isn’t that complicated and with the exception of needing uninterrupted time, it is very relaxing and definitely rewarding.

When making ice cream for the first time I suggest starting with a classic Vanilla ice cream. That way you can get used to the recipe and make sure it works for you and that it tastes good. My mum always says that you can tell the sign of a good ice cream judged by the quality of the vanilla….. While I do have to agree with her, I am still more of a decadent chocolate ice cream kinda’ gal! Having said that though, it is definitely a very good starting point so without further ado here it is - my recipe for a really good vanilla ice cream!

Friday, August 6, 2010

BBQ with friends

After a lovely, hot and sunny long weekend it was time to finish off with a BBQ with some friends before venturing off to watch the BC Day Fireworks. The weekend had been filled with visiting with family and friends, picnics in the park, a trip to the Filberg festival, leisurely walks and a cook club - you can’t get much better than that!!

Saturday started with a trip to our local farmers market to pick up some goodies for our picnic. After buying some delicious local cheese and some Bison pepperoni, we headed into town to grab a few more things to throw in the hamper (only because we were pretty late getting to the market!). Laden with cheese, ham, pepperoni, bread and lots of fruit we rambled down to a local park where we relaxed under some large trees and watched the world go by (and with it quite a few people tubing down the river!). Once mini Vanilla (and Mr. Vanilla for that matter) had woken from their post lunch naps we headed home before heading back out to friends for our monthly cook club. On the menu tonight was Vietnamese cuisine which was absolutely perfect for a hot summer night. The evening was another triumphant cook club and with it a new cuisine sampled and devoured.

Sunday was off to the Filberg festival – an annual craft festival held in Comox featuring over 100 artisans from across Canada. Top off a huge selection of pottery, artwork and jewellery (plus many more crafts) with live entertainment and a wide variety of food and you have got yourself a fantastic day out! The setting (the Filberg Lodge and gardens) was beautiful and the perfect host for such an event. We strolled around the gardens for hours looking at everything on display, with the aroma of all the lovely food filling the air and the dulcet tones in the background. I managed to snag myself yet more pottery (for my Birthday this year I was thoroughly spoilt with lots of original, beautifully crafted pottery) and a jar of orange chipotle mustard! After that it was off home where Mr. Vanilla slowly cooked some beef ribs for 3 hours on the barbecue (recipe will come soon!) which we ate outside with some coleslaw and salad as we watched the sunset.

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