Thursday, October 28, 2010

Friday Night Chicken Curry

Nothing beats a good curry on a Friday night whether you are home alone, cooking for your family or for a crowd of people. I have loved curries for a very long time and whenever I go home one of the first things I want to eat is a curry from a local Indian restaurant or takeaway. Here in Canada where I live there aren't really any Indian restaurants so when I get that curry craving I make my own which is just as delicious and hits the spot perfectly!

My Friday Night Chicken Curry


This makes a lovely, creamy and mildly spiced curry with plenty of sauce to mop up with naan bread. The heat of the curry depends on how hot the fresh chilli is and also the curry powder you use. If you prefer a really mild curry simply use less chilli or miss it out completely. Also if you prefer a thicker curry half the quantity of chicken stock and cream.

I tend to use chicken breasts for this recipe and just add them for the last 10 minutes of cooking, to keep the chicken nice and moist. If you prefer however, you could easily use chicken thighs instead. This is a good option if you want to make the curry in advance as the thighs can quite happily cook for a while without drying out. If using thighs I would suggest 8-10 good sized boneless and skinless thighs and simply add them to the pan after the onion and garlic have sautéed.

Serve this curry with saffron and cardamom rice (see below), mango chutney, raita and lots of naan bread.

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 red chilli, deseeded & finely chopped
5 green cardamom pods, slightly crushed
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground ginger
2 tsp curry powder
1 stick of cinnamon, broken in half
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled & finely grated
100ml passata or crushed tomatoes
400ml tin of coconut milk
250ml chicken stock
½ tsp sugar
2 small bay leaves
125ml whipping (double) cream
4 skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
Salt and pepper
4 tbsp fresh coriander, roughly chopped

In a large saucepan or wok heat the oil then add the sliced onions. Cook over a medium heat for roughly 5 minutes until they have softened but not browned. Add the garlic and chilli and continue to cook for a further minute before adding the cardamom pods, turmeric, coriander, cumin, ginger, curry powder, cinnamon stick and half of the ginger. Stir well and cook for a couple of minutes then add the passata, coconut milk, chicken stock, sugar, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Leave to simmer uncovered for 30 minutes before adding the chicken and half of the cream. Simmer and reduce again for a further 7 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and the cinnamon stick and continue to simmer gently for a further 2-3 minutes or until the chicken is properly cooked through. Just before serving add the remaining cream, ginger and half of the coriander. Serve with the rest of the coriander sprinkled over the top of the curry.

Cardamom & Saffron Rice

285g/ 10oz basmati rice
Small pinch of salt
Small pinch of saffron strands
3 cardamom pods, crushed
2 tbsp coriander, chopped (optional)

Cook the rice according to the packet instructions adding the salt, saffron and cardamom to the water. Once it is ready, drain well then fluff up with a fork. Just before serving scatter over the chopped coriander.

Cucumber Raita
250ml/ 1 cup plain natural yogurt
½ cucumber, cut in half lengthwise
1 fat spring onion, finely sliced
Handful of fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
Salt & pepper

Remove the seeds from the cucumber halves then cut each piece into 4 batons, then cut across the way so that you have small diced pieces. After that simply combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl and stir well. Season to taste and keep in the fridge until ready to serve.



Friday, October 22, 2010

A toast to the new Mr. & Mrs!!

Today one of my best friends is getting married! I've been so excited for them since the day they got engaged, however unfortunately as much as I wanted to I wasn't able to make it back to Scotland for their wedding. So to make up for the fact I was having to miss their big day I decided we would have a mini celebration for them here and what better way to celebrate than with cake and champagne! So Paula and Phil this is for you.....Congratulations to you both, I am so delighted for you and hope you have a fantastic day xxx

Vanilla Cupcakes with White Chocolate & Vanilla Icing

For the cupcakes I used the recipe for Vanilla Cupcakes from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook then added my own icing and decorations.

White Chocolate & Vanilla Icing
100g white chocolate
150g unsalted butter, at room temperature
150g icing sugar, sieved
1 tbsp milk
½ tsp vanilla extract

Melt the chocolate in a bowl in the microwave for 20 seconds at a time until completely melted and smooth. Leave to cool. Mix together the butter and icing sugar until smooth then add the milk, vanilla extract and white chocolate. Continue beating for a few minutes until light and fluffy. Top the cupcakes with the icing and smooth with an off-set spatula. Decorate as you please, I used some edible gold glitter and edible wafer roses.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Day in Vancouver Part 2 - Hamilton Street Gill (Taste of Yaletown 2010)

At night we were heading out for a meal to meet a friend from home that we hadn't seen for a few years who is now living in Vancouver. We had spent quite a bit of time trying to decide where to eat before we left as we wanted to have a nice meal out but something that wouldn't cost us an arm and a leg. Whilst looking at a few restaurants I realised that Taste of Yaletown 2010 had just started which meant we could take advantage of eating at a lovely restaurant in Yaletown and have a 3 course meal for between $25 and $45. As it turned out both of the restaurants we had been considering were taking part in this so we booked a table at the Hamilton Street Grill.

The table was booked for 8pm and when we arrived the restaurant was completely full with a lively atmosphere to walk into. We all opted for the $35 menu and ended up pretty much ordering the same meal! To start I ordered the west coast mussels which were served in a chipotle cream sauce with house cured bacon and a cilantro (coriander) lime pistou and my sister and friend had the goats cheese salad with pickled beets and vanilla white balsamic vinaigrette. Both dishes were lovely and the perfect sized portion, however I didn't detect any coriander/cilantro or lime and think it may have been forgotten (since you can't really miss the taste of coriander!!). Similarly the goats cheese and beetroot salad had no hint of vanilla but was delicious regardless. Presentation was nothing special for the salad but they did use both yellow and red beetroot which I always think looks beautiful. Normally I like to choose a different meal from everyone else so we can try a few things but this time since we only had a couple of choices we all opted for the steak. That being said since Hamilton Street Grill is a steakhouse it seemed to make sense to pick something that they are known for and therefore should cook perfectly. They did just that and all of our steaks were perfect. Served with a red wine shallot demi glace and a compound herb butter all three were melt in your mouth. The steaks were served on creamy mashed potatoes with carrots and green beans which were lovely and crisp – just as they should be. We were all so full after our main course that we had to wait a while before we could even consider dessert. Thankfully our waitress was fantastic and we were told to relax, take our time and enjoy ourselves which was really appreciated since there is nothing worse than being made to feel rushed when you are in a restaurant. When we were finally ready we all rather boringly opted for yet again the same dessert, despite having a choice of five! The vanilla bean creme brulee won us all over as it seemed the lightest of the options, however as a good creme brulee should be it was rich, velvety smooth and thick with plenty of vanilla. I was reassured to see that the vanilla specks had all congregated on the bottom of the ramekin as this was exactly what had happened to me last time I made my creme brulee!! The sugar was scorched perfectly – not overdone as it sometimes can be leading to a dark bitter taste. My only criticism was that it was a rather large portion and so I was only able to eat half of it (that plus the fact I had already had mussels and a large steak!) but that really isn't a criticism, more of a disappointment that I had to waste some of it since it was so good!! For the three courses we each paid $35 (not including taxes and 15% tip) which was fantastic value for money, the only negative was the cost of the wine which was $40 a bottle but that seems to be standard now for a meal out. I would definitely go back to the Hamilton Street Grill with or without Taste of Yaletown, however having never been before, it was the perfect way to try out a new restaurant and see what it is like as there is nothing worse than going somewhere new and leaving disappointed. Taste of Yaletown runs until October 30th and is definitely worth taking advantage of it. For a full list of participating restaurants and their menus visit http://yaletowninfo.com/ 

Day in Vancouver Part 1 - Granville Island

This past weekend my sister and I headed to Vancouver for a girl's weekend leaving Mr. Vanilla and baby at home for a boy's weekend. We lucked out with the weather and despite it being mid October we were treated to clear blue skies and even a little heat! As soon as we got to Vancouver after dropping off our bags it was straight to Granville Island which has to be without doubt my favourite place in Vancouver. I know that's a strong statement since there are so many great places to visit in Vancouver but being the foodie that I am this is my place to go. Thankfully my sister also loves it there so she wasn't dragged kicking and sreaming!

Granville Island is as described on their website “an urban oasis filled with fine waterfront restaurants, theatres, galleries, studios, unique shops, cafes and the most spectacular fresh food market you've ever seen”, and that couldn't be any more accurate. You can spend hours wandering around taking it all in, which hundreds of people do every day. I have yet to go there and see it as 'quiet'. It is always buzzing with both tourists and locals all doing some shopping, taking in the sights, soaking up the atmosphere and of course eating and that is why I love to go there – for the food! As well as all of the lovely shops and galleries there is the huge food market which is unbelievable. Stalls are always overflowing with the freshest, most delicious looking produce you can imagine. Everything you could want (and more) is all there under one roof.
                                                                                                                      

Whenever I go there I have to resist the temptation to buy everything and instead settle for just meandering through the aisles in awe of all the wonderful food. One place I can never resist however is the South China Seas Trading Co. where I always have to bring back a spice or two. This trip resulted in a few spices and condiments to add to my cupboards that I just couldn't resist including lavender, Korean chilli threads, a jar of hot and sour paste for making authentic tom yum soup (which was actually for Mr. Vanilla as it is one of his favourite soups), some Thai curry pastes and a couple of tubes of Harissa paste (which oddly enough I find quite difficult to buy here). Next stop was conveniently next door at Edible British Columbia which is a beautiful shop filled with local artisan products. Jars and bottles of jams, oils, vinegars and chutneys glisten under the lights tempting you like a kid in a sweetie shop. I managed to restrain and instead only bought a little box of 'Bacon Salt' (another little thing for Mr. Vanilla being a lover of both good quality nice salt and bacon) otherwise I think I could have quite easily have blown my budget for the weekend as there were so many things I could have bought! We continued to wander around taking it all in and 'ooh-ing and aah-ing' at everything including the most delicious looking cakes, bread and patisseries, rows of fresh pasta, olives, cheese, hams, beautiful cuts of meat, fish, chocolates and of course stacks of fresh fruit and vegetables. 


After a couple of hours of doing this we realised just how hungry we were so headed up to another place we like to visit on Granville Island – The Sandbar, where we sat outside under Granville Street bridge overlooking the market as well the waterfront and across into downtown Vancouver. It is stunning and no matter how many times I go there I still love it as much as the first time. Since it was our girl's day away we ordered a half bottle of Prosecco and shared some crab cakes and BBQ ribs which were coated in honey and ginger and were therefore deliciously sticky and sweet and incredibly tender. The crab cakes were also wonderful and were served with a smoked red pepper coulis and a lemon aioli.
With time ticking on we walked back to where we were staying along the sea wall having to stop every few minutes for my sis to take even more photos. For 5pm on a Saturday night the area was filled with people jogging, rollerblading or leisurely strolling with family and friends taking in the beautiful sunny October day.



Thursday, October 14, 2010

Go Big or Go Home!

This past weekend was Thanksgiving in Canada. Although it's not really something we particularly celebrate in the UK, in Canada it is big business....just like in the States. Canadians celebrate it in October while in America it is the last Thursday in November. I have to admit I'm always quite happy that here it is celebrated in October cause as it turns out it's pretty much Christmas dinner with pumpkin pie!! Ok, so that is maybe not 100% accurate but it is roast turkey with most of the trimmings.

This year was our turn to host Thanksgiving so I went all out. One of my husband's favourite expressions (like a lot of Canadians) is “Go big or go home”. I have heard it many times since moving to Canada so I decided on this occasion to show him that I have more than adapted to his Canadian lifestyle and opted to go big which resulted in roasting a turkey that was 25lbs!!! Yes I know – as my brother suggested it sounded more like I was serving Ostrich than a turkey, and my mum worried about how I would get it in the oven, but thankfully I have both a Canadian sized oven and roasting tray!

I have to admit the turkey was a beast of an animal and I am very glad I didn't come across it when it was alive as I imagine it to have had a bit of an attitude. However it did turn out to be a very tasty beast which is just as well as we have more than enough leftovers for the whole family to be feasting on for the rest of the week (as was requested!!).

The whole meal was delicious and I made things easier for myself this year by roasting the vegetables and sausages the night before so that all they needed was a little finishing off while the turkey was resting and being carved. This decision was based not purely on trying to make things easier for me on the day, but also on the fact that with the beast in the oven there wasn't much room for anything else! Mr. Vanilla's sister made some light-as-air fresh rolls and his mum made dessert which was her traditional pumpkin pie which is absolutely delicious. Everything turned out perfectly and it was a lovely day spent with family and eating more than just a little turkey! So here it is, my “Go Big or Go Home Thanksgiving 2010 Menu”.

~
Roast turkey with bread stuffing & Gravy
Roasted carrots & parsnips with parsley
Roasted squash with cinnamon & chilli
Brussel sprouts with bacon and red onion
Mashed potatoes
Sausages wrapped in bacon ('Pigs in pigs'!)
Cranberry Sauce
~
Pumpkin Pie


* Click here for the Smoked Salmon on Spring Onion Pancakes with creme fraiche & dill which is on the previous post. Unfortunately I have no recipe (yet!) for the Pumpkin Pie.

Since I don't have precise quantities for all of the dishes (and because I don't expect many of you to be making a roast turkey that is 25lbs) I have just given rough guidelines for what I did – adjust the quantities based on how many people you are cooking for.

Roast Turkey

The Beast!
1 turkey (your choice of size)
Unsalted butter
Zest of 1 lemon plus a squeeze of juice
Good couple of handfuls of mixed herbs of your choice
Maldon sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
Drizzle of olive oil

Whenever I am roasting chicken or turkey I always make up a herb and lemon butter to slather under the skin and all over the rest of the bird. It works well and every time I end up with a delicious, moist roast. Use herbs of your choice – this time I added thyme, parsley and sage along with the zest of 1 large lemon and a squeeze of juice. I finished it off by adding a good pinch of Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Once the turkey is covered with the herb butter I drizzled over a little olive oil. We then stuffed the turkey (see below) and covered it in foil.

To cook the turkey allow 20 minutes per pound. We as always also used our meat thermometer and if you are doing so you want it to have an internal temperature of 180F. I roasted my turkey at 350F/ 180C and doing it as this temperature for 20 minutes a pound worked perfectly.

When the turkey is fully cooked through and the juices are running clear, remove from the oven and leave to rest for 20-30 minutes.

Bread Stuffing

This is Mr. Vanilla's mum and sister's recipe for bread stuffing which is their traditional way to make stuffing. This is definitely a Canadian recipe/ tradition for me as usually at home we have oatmeal stuffing as well as a sausage meat stuffing. That being said though, this stuffing is delicious and is easy to make. The amount I made this year was plenty to stuff our turkey (though don't cram it in!) and then filled a loaf tin. For a 'normal' sized turkey, you could probably half the quantities.

2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
2 onions, finely diced
4 stalks of celery, finely diced
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
700g dried bread cubes* (I used 2 x 350g bags)
1 tbsp Poultry seasoning
1 tbsp fresh sage, finely chopped
Good handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh thyme
1000ml/ 4 cups chicken stock
Salt & pepper

Melt the butter with the oil in a frying pan and saute the onion and celery for roughly 8 minutes until softened but not coloured. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute or two then remove from the heat. In a large bowl (probably the biggest bowl you have!) combine the bread cubes, onion mix, poultry seasoning and herbs and mix well. Add the stock and seasoning and mix until everything is evenly combined then taste to check the seasoning. Stuff inside the turkey and put any leftovers into a separate dish. If you remember when you take the turkey out of the oven add a couple of spoonfuls of the juices from the turkey to the stuffing to keep it nice and moist and full of flavour. Cook the additional stuffing at 350F/ 180C for roughly 30 - 40 minutes.

*The dried bread cubes I use can be bought at my local supermarket. When you first look at them they look horrible – just cubes of dry white bread that is hard and stale, however as soon as you add the stock and rehydrate them they taste just like fresh bread cubes. If you can't find them (as has happened to me before) just use fresh bread – simply cut into cubes and spread out on a couple of baking trays then leave overnight to dry out. If you don't have that much time to dry them out, stick them in the oven for a little bit.

Gravy

Due to the size of turkey we had LOTS of gravy this year but you can't beat having plenty of good quality tasty gravy. The amount of flour and water or stock you need will depend solely on how much juices came out of the turkey. Once you have let the turkey rest add any additional juices back to the gravy.

Juices from the turkey
Plain or all-purpose flour
Good splash of white or red wine
Water from mashed potatoes or chicken stock (see below)
Salt & pepper

Put the roasting tray above 2 burners on your oven and keep the heat fairly low. All I do to make gravy is remove as much fat from the juices as possible (I find the easiest way is just to gently put a spoon on top and take it off. Towards the end I tip the pan to make it a bit easier, but don't worry about getting it all), then add a good few spoonfuls of plain or all-purpose flour and whisk it to get all of the yummy pieces stuck to the bottom. I then add a good splash of white wine and whisk it all together. After that I either use the water that I cooked the potatoes in (a little hint my mother-in-law taught me) or failing that I use chicken stock. Whatever you decide to use whisk away and keep it simmering so that it thickens properly. I always find that you can either add more flour or liquid as needed but always bring to a simmer after you add things and continue to simmer for a couple of minutes. Season with some salt and pepper and taste to check it is to your liking. Keep warm then when ready to serve transfer to a gravy boat or other serving dish.

Roasted Carrots & Parsnips with Parsley

4 Carrots
3-4 Parsnips
Olive oil
Salt & pepper
Fresh parsley, finely chopped

Peel the carrots and parsnips and cut into bite-sized pieces (I cut them into slices at an angle then cut each slice in half). Toss with a little olive oil then roast at 400F/200C for 30-40 minutes, turning half way through cooking. Just before serving sprinkle over the parsley.

Roasted Squash with Cinnamon & Chilli

Variety of squash – I used butternut squash, acorn squash and carnival squash
Good pinch of cinnamon
Good pinch of chilli flakes
Fresh thyme leaves
Fresh rosemary leaves
Salt & pepper
Olive oil

Cut up each squash into manageable pieces, remove the seeds then peel. Cut into bite-sized pieces then put into a large bowl. Sprinkle over some cinnamon, chilli, fresh thyme leaves and finely chopped fresh rosemary. Season with a good pinch of salt and pepper then drizzle over some olives oil. Toss everything together so all of the squash is evenly coated in the spices and herbs. Roast for 30-40 minutes at 400F/ 200C until golden.

Brussel Sprouts with Bacon & Red Onion

I allow 3 brussel sprouts per person with an additional handful thrown in for good luck! The addition of bacon and red onion makes them absolutely delicious – even a brussel sprout hater will be converted. If you want you could also add some toasted pecans or chestnuts and a squeeze of fresh orange juice.

Brussel sprouts
Drizzle of olive oil
Streaky bacon
½ red onion, thinly sliced
Salt & pepper

Drizzle a very small amount of olives oil into a frying pan then once hot snip pieces of bacon into the pan and cook until they are just starting to turn crispy. Add the onion and continue to cook for another few minutes until the onion has softened. While the bacon and onion is cooking prepare the brussel sprouts. Remove the outer leaves from the brussel sprouts and any that are marked. Trim the very bottom off then mark a 'x' on the base of each sprout. Put into a large pan and boil for 5 minutes until just tender. Drain and toss through the bacon and onion. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Mashed potatoes

I recently bought myself a potato ricer – perhaps not a necessity but definitely a gadget I wish I'd had for a while! I recommend using one if you like the ultimate in super smooth, creamy mashed potatoes. Whenever I make mashed potatoes I just boil as many potatoes as I think I need depending on how many people I'm cooking for then add a good knob of butter and enough warm milk until I get the perfect creamy, buttery mashed potatoes. For precise quantities for 4 people see sausages with red wine, onion and thyme sauce & mashed potatoes.

Potatoes, peeled & cut into even sized pieces
Warm milk (I warm it in the microwave)
Butter
Salt & pepper

Put the potatoes in a large pan of salted water (cold water). Bring to a boil and continue to gently boil away for roughly 20 minutes or until they are tender. Drain (reserving the water for your gravy if you like) then mash or put through a ricer. Add a good knob of butter and some warm milk and continue mashing until you have perfect mashed potatoes. Season with salt and pepper and serve with an extra little knob of butter on top.

Pigs in Pigs
(Sausages wrapped in bacon)

Again I allow 3 per person plus a few extra just to make sure (and so we have some leftovers!!). I precooked these the night before as well and then just popped them back in for 15 minutes while the turkey was resting and being carved.

Pork chipolata sausages
Streaky bacon

Using the back of your knife slightly stretch the bacon. With the bacon I have I usually cut each slice into 3 pieces but if your bacon is slightly smaller just cut each slice in half. Wrap a piece of bacon around a sausage and repeat until all of the sausages are wrapped. Cook at 400F/ 200C for approximately 40 minutes until properly cooked through.

And don't forget the cranberry sauce!

Smoked Salmon on Spring Onion Pancakes




Not quite a traditional blini, but these mini pancakes are just as delicious and are easy and fast to make using ingredients you are likely to have at home. If you like you can make them in advance and then top with the smoked salmon, creme fraiche and dill just before serving.

Makes approx. 36 pancakes

For the pancakes:
100g plain or all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
150ml milk
1 egg, separated
25g/ 1oz butter, melted
2-3 spring onions, finely sliced
2 tsp fresh dill, finely chopped
Salt & pepper

To serve:
Smoked salmon
Good spritz of fresh lemon
Fresh dill
Creme fraiche
Freshly ground black pepper

Put the flour, salt and baking powder into a large bowl and mix. Add the milk, egg yolk and whisk well then add the melted butter along with the spring onions, dill, salt and pepper. Whisk the egg white until you have stiff peaks then gently fold into the pancake batter until evenly combined. Heat a flat griddle or frying pan and drop tablespoons of the pancake batter. Cook until bubbles start to appear on the top of the pancakes then flip over and cook until golden. Remove and set aside on a wire rack and repeat until all of the batter is used.

To serve the pancakes top with a small spoonful of creme fraiche. Spritz the smoked salmon with the lemon juice and a grinding of black pepper then add a small slice of salmon on top of the creme fraiche and finish with a small sprig of dill.


Friday, October 8, 2010

A few basics

Everyone has a few recipes that they use over and over again – the quick and easy ones that you use on a weekly basis without even thinking about or the simple standby's that instantly transform a dish. If you look in a lot of cookbooks (especially restaurant cookbooks) either at the start or the very end of the book you will find a chapter dedicated to 'basics'. After much thought I have included a few of my fast and easy basics here (or 'extras' as I tend to label them) – it was tough because once I stopped to think about it I realised I have a lot of things I make and use as a basis to many dishes – so much so that it would probably lead to at least a month's worth of blogging about! Thankfully for now I narrowed it down to three – my basic tomato sauce recipe, which has to be my number one basics recipe as I make it all the time. Second is my cheat's aioli. I realise if I was a proper chef (or any type of chef for that matter) I would be including a recipe for real mayonnaise or aioli and although I do on certain occasions make my own mayonnaise, this cheat's aioli is so fast but so delicious that I had to include it here. I have actually already used it in one of my previous blogs, but because I do rely on it a lot it will probably feature here many times, therefore I decided it really deserved it's own posting. The third and final one is my basic vinaigrette recipe. I know a recipe for a vinaigrette might not sound very exciting but once again I use it every week. It is classic, easy and will transform any salad to new height's.

So here they are on 3 separate postings so that they have their own well deserved page....basic tomato sauce, cheat's aioli and my basic vinaigrette.

Basic Tomato Sauce

Although I named this my basic tomato sauce recipe, I realise that it doesn't really do it justice as although it may seem basic, nothing about it tastes so. I've mentioned this sauce already (Tomato Tomatoe post) because without any question of doubt, I use it at least once a week. It is perfect by itself for tossing with pasta as a simple, quick yet delicious tomato sauce finished with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a good grating of Parmesan cheese, or you can use it as a foundation recipe to which you can add any meat, fish, vegetables and herbs that you like.

I have also been known to add some cream to it, turning it into a delicious rose sauce and if the mood strikes adding a shot of vodka to the sauce for the last minute before I stir in the pasta to make a wonderful Italian tomato & vodka pasta sauce. I also use it for my pizza sauce adding an extra teaspoon of oregano or stir it into risotto for a full flavoured, bright tomato risotto. There are so many things you can do with this sauce which is why I always have it on hand, or at the least, have all of the ingredients on hand! Make a few batches and keep it in the freezer so that you always have a delicious tomato sauce on hand, ready to go.

2 tbsp olive oil
2 – 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tsp dried oregano
pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
2 x 400g tins of tomatoes (or 1 x 28oz can)*
1 tsp sugar
Salt and Pepper

Heat the oil in a pan and add the crushed garlic. Gently saute for a minute being careful not to brown it then add the tomatoes along with the oregano, chilli, sugar, salt and pepper. Stir well then leave to simmer and reduce slightly for 30 minutes. When it has thickened slightly and looks ready, taste to check the seasoning and use as needed.

*You can use either chopped or whole plum tomatoes, it’s up to you, just break down the whole tomatoes if that is what you are using. If however you want a completely smooth sauce, either puree the whole tomatoes (handheld blenders work perfectly) or use passata which is sieved tomatoes and therefore has no chunks!

Cheat's Aioli

When I think of aioli it reminds me of holidays in France with my family. We would always go and buy the most delicious, fresh crevettes for lunch and then bask in the sun while leisurely peeling off the shells then dipping them into the perfect accompaniment of aioli. It is simple, delicious food at it's finest.

Aioli is similar to mayonnaise (oil and egg base) with the difference being the addition of garlic. You can add as much garlic as you like as it is meant to be quite pungent, however I find that one fat clove, finely crushed is strong enough for me. This recipe is quick and easy and although I have to admit it's not quite the same as making your own from scratch, it is delicious. You can use it for so many things - I use it as a dipping sauce for prawns, crab (Feeling crabby?!?), potato wedges and even to top my delicious wild mushroom bruschetta.

Cheat's Aioli

125ml good quality mayonnaise
1 fat clove of garlic, crushed (I like to use my microplane)
Squeeze of lemon juice
Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Simply mix all of the ingredients together in a small bowl and use as needed. Keep any leftovers in the fridge.

Basic Vinaigrette

Basic Vinaigrette

I have to admit when I go to dress my salads I'm a huge fan of simply balsamic vinegar and olive oil and more often that not grab that option. However when I feel like something different this is the vinaigrette for me. It is a lovely recipe that will perk up even the simplest of salads. I like to use one tablespoon of walnut oil but you could use another type of nut oil, for example hazelnut oil or almond oil, or if you don't have any nut oils simply use 3 tablespoons of olive oil. You can also add a little crushed garlic to it if you like, just go easy – ¼ - ½ a clove is more than enough.

1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp honey
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp walnut oil (optional)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Maldon sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Put the mustard and honey in a small bowl or jar and add the red wine vinegar. Mix together then add a good pinch of salt (I prefer to use Maldon sea salt) and some black pepper. Add the oil and mix well so the vinaigrette emulsifies together. Taste to check the seasoning and serve drizzled over your salad of choice.

Friday, October 1, 2010

First Storm of the Season


Well it is official – another summer has been and gone. September 23rd was the first day of Autumn and with it came rain and a definite temperature drop. It's once again time to put away the flip-flops and tank tops and bring out my wooly socks and cozy jumpers. However as sad as I am that summer is over (it is definitely my favourite season) there is also something lovely and welcoming about this time of year and I actually really enjoy the first few weeks of Autumn when everything is turning a golden yellow and orange, the leaves are falling from the trees and the nights shorter with a crispness in the air. Friday was our first storm of the season so it was the perfect day to stay inside and make some autumnal butternut squash soup and plenty of baking.

I don't really bake that much – I would love to do it far more often but I don't generally have enough time to do it and also if I do, normally I end up eating too much of it which doesn't really fit in with my plans to lose the rest of my unwanted 'baby' weight!!! Luckily for me though, my sister flew out to stay with us earlier in the week so I have an on-call babysitter leaving me extra time to do some baking and of course babysitter's need to be rewarded. Thankfully she is more than happy to be rewarded with some fresh baking so I set to work while watching the rain lash against the windows and the trees twisting and arching under the force of the wind.

Butternut squash soup with thyme was first on my list to be eaten for lunch with some goats cheese crostini. After that it was straight on with some rose cupcakes. A little summery perhaps but ones I have wanted to try for a while – girly and glittery pink they were just what we needed on such a miserable day. Next on my list was a return to my childhood with mum's oatmeal cookies complete with retro glace cherries on top! In my opinion you can't beat spending a stormy day in the kitchen and this storm more than paid off with plenty of culinary delights from the kitchen and thankfully for us, no power cuts!

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