Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Passion Lemonade

I have good old Starbuck's to thank for this drink...I discovered it last summer when I was in Vancouver for a few days, hot and desperately in need of something chilled and refreshing to quench my thirst. It's now one of my favourite drinks to have on a sunny day. Quite simply it's just lemonade with some chilled Passion Tea added, but honestly you have to try it – it is such a delicious spin on traditional lemonade. Try it for a change – it's the perfect drink to take along to a picnic.

Makes 1 large pitcher – enough for 4-6 glasses

2 Passion Tea teabags (I use Tazo but you could use any Passion Tea you have)

Freshly squeezed juice of 6 juicy lemons – approx. 250 ml
1 litre chilled still or sparkling water
Lemon slices (optional) & plenty of ice for serving

Start by steeping the tea. I put both the tea bags into my tea pot and fill it with boiling water. Leave to steep for 5-10 minutes, then remove the teabags and allow the tea to cool completely.

When you are ready to serve the lemonade mix together the lemon juice and sugar syrup in a large pitcher, then add the chilled water. Taste to check the sweetness and adjust if necessary. Add plenty of ice and slices of lemon to the pitcher. To serve you can either add some passion tea directly to the pitcher of lemonade of if you prefer keep them separate and just top up each glass of lemonade with roughly 1/3 of chilled passion tea – this way you get the two toned effect which makes this drink not only taste delicious but is also beautiful to look at.

*For an alternative serving suggestion, once you have made the tea and it has chilled, freeze it in an ice cube tray for individual passion tea ice cubes which will slowly melt into the lemonade!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Reader Challenge Choice

Thank you to all of you that picked a book for me to review. I had 15 choices in total – all of which were great books that I was very excited about. However only 1 book could be picked this month so I used the Random Number Generator and it chose suggestion number 13 (lucky for some, unlucky for others!!). Thank you to Souperior who was lucky 13 for her choice of book which was Diva Cooking by Victoria Blashford-Snell & Jennifer Joyce! I'm super excited about this book and will be scouring through the pages tonight picking my 3 recipes to make and review! I'm hoping to have the challenge completed and the book reviewed by September 16th so keep your eyes open to see how I get on!

Thank you again to everyone that took the time to pick a book for me to review. If you are remain interested I would love to keep this as a monthly challenge.

True Random Number Generator Min: Max: Result: 13 Powered by RANDOM.ORG

{Sorry about the Random.Org display! I did it then couldn't work out how to properly add it to my blog! Anyway you can still see from this that Number 13 was the one it picked and that I didn't fix it or cheat!}

Friday, August 26, 2011

Duck & Soba Noodle Salad {Forever Nigella 8}

Ever since 'Forever Nigella' was started by Sarah at Maison Cupcakes I have been meaning to participate, yet somehow every month goes by and before I know it the deadline has passed (or is a day away and I'm far too dis-organised to do a post in one day!). I was so upset to miss last month's Icy Treats (I mean come on – as if I need any more excuses to make some ice cream!), so I was determined to participate this month, especially as this months theme hosted by Helen at Fuss Free Flavours is Picnic Pleasure! For those of you that regularly read my blog, you'll know that in July I had a whole host of recipes dedicated entirely to picnics, however there was one other recipe that I had desperately wanted to include but hadn't. So what a perfect opportunity to post it and more so finally be able to be a part of Forever Nigella, especially since the recipe was inspired by none other than Ms Lawson herself!! It was obviously just meant to be. So finally here it is, my first entry into Forever Nigella with my Duck & Soba Noodle Salad!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Rice Salad for a BBQ

It was my husbands company BBQ at the weekend, which was hosted by his partner and wife. They took care of everything and did an absolutely fantastic job! The food was amazing, the sun shone all day and everyone had a great time. As for us – since we weren't hosting this year all I was asked to bring was a rice salad to go with the main course. I thought it rude not to share so here it is, my Rice Salad for a BBQ – light, summery and a great accompaniment to grilled meats (and also makes a lovely lunch alternative).

{Serves 10-12 as a side}

340g Basmati Rice, rinsed
115g Black Jasmine Rice or Wild Rice, rinsed {optional}
Large tin of Chickpeas
250g Frozen peas (or fresh if you can)
Bunch of Spring (Green) onions – roughly 4 fat ones, thinly sliced
150g Feta, crumbled
Zest of 2 Lemons, and juice of 1 1/2
Good handful of fresh Italian Parsley, chopped
3 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive oil, plus a little extra for drizzling over the rice
Salt & Pepper

Cook the basmati rice in a large pan of boiling water with a little salt until tender (Check your packet instructions and if you prefer cook the rice according to their directions – my method is simply to cook the rice in a large pan with lots of boiling water for 10 minutes, then I taste it and if necessary cook for another couple of minutes. Perhaps not the best instructions for cooking rice, but it works for me!). Once ready, drain then put onto a large baking sheet. Drizzle over a little oil, gently toss the rice with the oil then leave to cool. Cook the black jasmine rice or wild rice if using and do the same once cooked as with the white basmati rice.

Cook the peas for roughly 3-4 minutes in boiling water then rinse under cold water to cool them down and stop them from cooking.

Drain and rinse the chickpeas then put into a large mixing bowl. Add both of the rices, the peas, spring onions, feta, lemon zest, and parsley. Season with a good pinch of salt and pepper then squeeze over the lemon juice and the olive oil. Toss the rice salad well (using a large fork – ideally – a spoon can make it clump together rather than fluffing it up) until everything is well mixed then taste to check the seasoning. Transfer into a serving bowl and voila! Rice salad is served!

*If you like you could also add some freshly chopped mint to this salad and for a little kick, a red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped.

*One Year Ago - Steamed Crab with a Trio of Dipping Sauces 
**Two Years Ago - Vanilla Clouds and Lemon Drops

Monday, August 22, 2011

Reader Challenge!

As a lot of you are aware I have more than a few cookbooks (for those of you that are new to my blog you might want to take a look here). As I have mentioned before I love cookbooks, I love my cookbooks and I love my little library. But the truth is I use my books more as a source of education and inspiration rather than actually following recipes.

It had always been my intention to review books on this blog but since I am always making up my own recipes it's hard to deviate and cook from the books! Of course you can review books without making the recipes but I don't think that gives a really honest account of the book. It's one thing to have a book full of beautiful recipes and fantastic photography but unless the recipes actually work and are successful what's the point?!

So recently as I was looking at my collection and deciding which books to read next I decided to come up with this reader challenge. There are 3 main reasons for it....The first and foremost is for me to actually use my books, try them out and not just read them like they are novels! Secondly, my sister who has been living close by for the past year is going back home to Scotland in September so I will be fairly miserable and need thing to keep me occupied!! And last but by no means least, it is a fun way to get me to finally write reviews of some of the books I have but more so reviews of books you want reviewed, not just what I pick!

So this is the reader challenge......take a look at my collection of books and everyone that wants to participate can pick ANY one book from my collection that you want me to cook from! That's right – ANY book you want! It can be a book you are interested in buying but would like to read a review of first; one of your favourite books that you love to cook from or just a completely random choice! Simply post a comment at the bottom of this post with the name of the book you have chosen (and if you want to give a reason why you chose it please do so but this is by no means necessary). The deadline for suggestions is August 29th 2011, upon which I will use a random number generator (to keep things fair) and it will pick the book from all of the suggestions!

Once I have the chosen book removed from the book shelves and on my kitchen counter I will cook 3 recipes from it....The first will be something that I just really like the look of that I think is one of the top recipes in the book. The second recipe will be something that looks a little more advanced and not generally something I would ordinarily make, and the third recipe will be something that I have never tried or eaten before (subject to being able to get the ingredients)! Sound good? I think so and I hope that you agree, and if I get enough interest in this reader challenge then it will become a monthly challenge!

So there you go – my first reader challenge! Now since it is my first month of doing this please be kind and don't all pick books such as The French Laundry or the The Big Fat Duck – ease me in gently!!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Lunch & The Simplest Tomato Salad

Not really a recipe (and I do already have a Tomato Salad recipe on my blog) but I had to include it as it was so good! Fresh tomatoes from the farmers markets that were so sweet and juicy all they needed was a little extra virgin olive oil, a scattering of Maldon sea salt and a few basil leaves. Perfect alone but I indulged and had them with some of the left over Potted Crab. A simple lunch lazily enjoyed in the sun leaving me more than satisfied. The simplest things are by far the best.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Seasonal Food at it's Best {With a Trip to the Farmer's Market}

Saturday morning we were up bright and early, eager to get to our local farmer's market. The stalls were over-flowing with the brightest and most delicious produce and so it didn't take long for us to fill up our two bags and empty our pockets of cash! This weeks treasures included yellow and green zucchini; an abundance of tomatoes – yellow, orange and red; green and purple French beans; chillies (including another plant – this time though to be kept indoors with the hope I can keep it alive over winter!); peppers – red, yellow and orange; three containers of fresh basil, including lemon basil; some local pepperoni and sausages and of course our favourite dill and onion bread.

With my glut of tomatoes I went straight to work making homemade tomato ketchup, but for our evening meal I wanted to keep things simple....Mr. Vanilla perfectly seared some steaks on the barbecue which were served alongside some potato wedges and a healthy dollop of the homemade ketchup and then I served two simple and delicious salads – this raw, fresh zucchini salad and a mixed bean salad, cooking the beans only briefly so they retained most of their brilliant purple hue and finishing them with a warm shallot, garlic & oregano dressing. With such wonderful local ingredients that have been grown with care and love it was no surprise that dinner was a delicious feast which we greedily devoured and enjoyed with a glass of wine.

Zucchini Salad

Perhaps the simplest way to serve Zucchini but my favourite. Fresh, local zucchini enhanced only slightly with a little red chilli and lemon basil.... summer food at it's finest. For an extra treat this is also delicious piled onto some crostini and topped with some fresh mozzarella and an extra drizzle of olive oil.

2 Zucchini – green & yellow if you can
1 red chilli, deseeded & finely chopped
scattering of fresh basil – I used lemon basil which is perfect with this
Squeeze of lemon juice
Extra virgin olive oil
Maldon salt

Using a vegetable peeler or mandolin cut the zucchini into long ribbons, allowing them to fall naturally onto your serving plate. Scatter the chilli and basil over the top – ideally using the smaller basil leaves – the finish with a squeeze of lemon juice, a good drizzle of olive oil and a scattering of sea salt. Easy, fast and the most delicious way to eat zucchini!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Homemade Tomato Ketchup

Without doubt Heinz has the monopoly on Tomato Ketchup and to be completely honest I love it! No BLT is complete without it, wedges or fries are a no-go unless I have some and don't get me started on having a fried or basted egg without some ketchup on the side!!! It is my junk food indulgence and I don't care!

Now while I have no problem eating Tomato Ketchup I had been suffering from motherly guilt after letting my wee guy try it for the first time about a month ago, which of course he loved! Does it make me a bad mum for giving him ketchup?....No, absolutely not and to be honest I can count on one hand how many times he has eaten it, but to ease my conflict I decided to make my own so that he can have all the ketchup he wants! That plus the fact I had a glut of tomatoes after going to the farmer's market made for a happy afternoon in the kitchen making up a batch of homemade Tomato Ketchup which is delicious. I definitely recommend trying this out if you are a ketchup fan...it's no Heinz but for me it's better!

{For a spicy version which I love add some chopped chilli and feel free to adjust the amount of sugar – it's all about personal taste and being able to control your sugar and salt. I wouldn't go less than 75g though but it's your call! Enjoy!}

2 tbsp olive oil
2 small onions, sliced
2 stalks of celery, sliced
2 cloves of garlic
1inch piece of fresh ginger
1 cinnamon stick,
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 cloves
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2lbs tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp tomato puree
300ml water
100g soft brown sugar
125ml red wine vinegar

Heat the oil in a large pan the saute the onions and celery for roughly 10 minutes until starting to soften. Add the garlic, ginger, cinnamon stick, coriander, cloves and black pepper and cook gently for another 5 minutes, before adding the chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, water, sugar, vinegar and some salt. Bring to a gentle boil then lower the heat and leave to simmer gently for roughly 1 hour until the sauce has reduced quite a bit and there isn't a lot of water or juice.

Leave to cool for 5 minutes then remove the cinnamon stick and pop the sauce into a blender and whizz until completely smooth then sieve the ketchup into a clean pan to ensure a silky smooth ketchup. Taste to check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. If your ketchup is a little runny (based on the amount of juice from the tomatoes) return the pan to the heat and cook for a little longer until it has reduced further and to the consistency of ketchup. It will thicken slightly as it cools though. Pour the hot ketchup into bottles, jars or other containers and allow to cool before keeping in the fridge and enjoying whenever you fancy some homemade ketchup!

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Hot Day & A Relaxing Meal in the Garden......

You might have noticed but I have been a little absent over the last 3 weeks. Posts were published thanks to a little organisation and the ability to schedule them in advance, but responses to comments and queries have been lacking. The reason being that my family have been out visiting from Scotland. I don't know where the time has gone but the last 3 weeks literally flew by...but isn't it always the way. That being said they were a fantastic 3 weeks cram-packed with as much family time as possible which of course included lots of great food, wine, conversations and laughs around the table! Now however, it's back to just the 3 of us and the house is quiet, so to cheer myself up I treated us to possibly one of the best things I can think of to eat in the summer – potted crab!

Ever the purist, this is the ideal food for my husband as it is crab (one of his 'Top 3') and butter enhanced with a little lemon, chilli and garlic and without all of the mess involved with eating an actual whole crab (although we enjoy that as well). This is food that's meant to be eaten outside, ideally at the beach but failing that in the garden, so that's exactly what we did.....enjoyed with a nicely chilled bottle of white wine and plenty of crusty bread.

Potted Crab {My Way!}

Potted Crab or more precisely, crab drenched in flavoured butter, chilled and then slathered onto crusty bread..... Whoever came up with this is a genius!

This is my version of Potted Crab which I've spiced up slightly with some fresh chilli and added a touch of garlic too as we are both garlic lovers when it comes to crab! If you prefer however, you can miss it out and instead add a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg – the choice is yours! I have however stuck to the traditional garnish of a bay leaf as I have a bay plant outside my front door, needing to be used, but I can't get the niggling idea out of my head to one day try a fresh Kaffir lime leaf instead – just to really finish off the fusion flavour in this traditional British classic!!!

Serves 4 {Don't be fooled by the small pot – this is rich and decadent!}

225g/ 8oz fresh crab meat
140g/ 5oz butter
1 red chilli, finely chopped (de-seeded if you prefer a milder flavour)
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 small clove of garlic, crushed
Pinch of salt
1 or 2 bay leaves

Crusty bread to serve
Lemon wedges (optional)

Check the crab for any pieces of shell then place in a small bowl. In a small pan melt roughly 100g of the butter along with the chilli, lemon zest and juice, the garlic and a pinch of salt. Once it's melted add the crab meat then transfer to a container or individual ramekin dishes. Gently press down (I find it easiest to use the back of a spoon). Melt the remaining butter then using a small spoon remove any frothy white scum. Gently spoon the clear, golden butter over the crab mixture leaving behind any white solids. Finish by carefully placing the bay leaf on top, then chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

Serve in the sun with plenty of crusty bread and a wedge or two of lemon!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Chicken, Rocket & Spicy Red Pesto Burgers

Looking for a slightly different burger recipe this Summer? Then try this delicious mouthwatering Chicken, Rocket & Spicy Red Pesto Burger as an lighter alternative to a classic beef burger. Plus it's the perfect way to use up some delicious homemade Spicy Red Pesto.

2 tbsp pine nuts
2 tbsp olive oil, plus a little extra to cook the burgers with
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed
2 chicken breasts – here I tend to find that they are fairly large so use 3 if they are small
2 tbsp spicy red pesto
1 large handful of rocket leaves, roughly chopped
1 egg, beaten
4 tbsp bread crumbs
Salt & pepper

To serve:
4 buns of your choice
Rocket (arugula)
Red onion, cut into thin slices
Tomato slices

Pesto Mayo:
6 tbsp mayonnaise
3 tbsp spicy red pesto

Update to Posts.... {& Spicy Red Pesto}

It's hard to believe it but I actually started writing this blog 2 years ago! At the time I had no idea what I was doing, knew pretty much nothing about blogging and was pregnant! Unsurprisingly my blogging slowed down considerably 3 months after I started it and came to a complete stop when my beautiful little boy was born! Seven months later I got back into it and I'm delighted that I have been able to write frequently since then which means I've been blogging consistently for 1 year now! Quite an achievement considering a lot of the things I've been through during that time. That being said, like I think a lot of bloggers, when you look back at earlier posts there are things you want to change. Not the recipes or ramblings but more so (for me anyway!) photographs and lay-out.

Initially I had no photographs for most of my posts, now however I have come to realise how important photos are when it comes to blogging. It's hardly surprising (and I should have known better) considering most people choose cookbooks that are filled with glossy, delicious pictures enticing us to make the accompanying recipes! So while I fully admit I still need a lot more practice taking good photographs, I know that my recent ones are certainly a lot better than any earlier ones taken which makes me want to replace all the earlier ones which I am slowly trying to do.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Scallop & Bacon Spaghetti

 My husband likes fairly simple food. While I am a condiments freak he generally avoids them – preferring not to 'mar' the taste of whatever it is he's eating. Fair enough – everyone is different, however it can make it tricky to get him to try new things 'cause as far as he is concerned “why mess with a good thing?!” If he ever has to cook for himself he will grill some meat and make a salad to go with it (no complaints there!). I on the other hand would make a sauce or flavoured butter to go with the meat – just for that little something extra!

And then there is the pasta debate.....If you follow my blog you are probably aware that I am a pastaholic! I would literally eat pasta every day if I could – including the summer! Mr. Vanilla on the other hand...not so much! He likes pasta but just not that often and it's probably due to the fact that I am always feeding him lighter tomato pasta's which is my absolute favourite, whereas he prefers cream-based pasta sauces! Judging from the amount of 'cream-based' sauces on my recipes page you can see the poor guy doesn't get them that often! So I have gone out on a limb here and created a pasta dish that I know he will not complain about at all. Not only is it 100% tomato free and has cream in it, but it includes the ingredients that make up one of his all-time favourite starters – scallops wrapped in bacon! I'm sure if I made this every week he would be delighted to eat pasta....but our waist lines, not so much! However we all need a treat every now and then so Mr. Vanilla – this pasta dish is for you, simple, no fuss and full of flavours you love! Enjoy!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Crispy Calamari

I absolutely love calamari but I used to be intimidated by it since there is nothing worse than chewy, overcooked calamari. However, I have since realised that it is in fact easy to make and even better, is the ultimate in fast food.

On a hot summer day I can't think of anything better than a plate of delicious calamari enjoyed outside with a cold glass of white or rose wine or an ice cold beer, so since the sun is finally shining bring out the calamari!

Serves 2 as a shared starter/ light lunch

300g Squid cut into rings* (Normally I just buy frozen squid & let it defrost)
6 tbsp flour
3 tbsp cornflour
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Vegetable or canola oil for frying

To serve:
Cooling Tzatziki, Spicy Mayo or Cheat's Aioli
Lemon Wedges

Cooling Tzatziki
1/4 cucumber, deseeded & grated
1 small clove of garlic, crushed
1-2 spring onions, finely chopped
125ml natural yogurt
1 tsp fresh dill, finely chopped
salt & pepper

Spicy Mayo
1/3 cup mayo
1 tbsp siracha hot sauce

Make the dipping sauce(s) of your choice and set aside until ready to serve.

Heat the oil in a medium to large pan – you need roughly one and a half to two inches of oil.

In a large sandwich bag mix together the flour, cornflour, paprika, cayenne pepper, salt & pepper. Rinse the squid and dry slightly on some kitchen paper before adding to the bag with the flour mixture in it.

Once the oil is 350F/ 180C (If you don't have a thermometer you can test it by adding a small piece of bread – if it sizzles instantly then it is ready, if not let it heat up a bit more) add the squid in batches and cook for roughly 60 - 90 seconds until crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper and keep warm while you cook the rest of the calamari.

Serve as soon as the last batch is cooked with the dipping sauces and some wedges of lemon. Fast food at its finest!

*I know 300g might sound like a strange amount but it just happens to be the size of bags I buy. That being said it is very easy to double the recipe for say 500g squid.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Lemon Drizzle Loaf

Every picnic needs a cake and what better than a light and zesty lemon loaf that is melt-in-your-mouth delicious and super easy to make?! Since I'm not much of a baker I used a recipe from Tana Ramsay that I saw on the BBC Good Food website for a basic lemon cake and I have to say it didn't disappoint! I had to vary the cooking times slightly as it took longer to bake than suggested in the recipe but that could very well just be down to my oven! The cake lasted no time at all however what did survive the day were just as delicious over the following days! A must for any picnic, or anytime you fancy a slice of lemon loaf with a cup of tea!!

225g unsalted butter, softened
225g caster (super fine) sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
4 large eggs
225g self-raising flour

For the topping:
Juice of 1 1/2 lemons
85g sugar

Pre-heat the oven to 350F/ 180C. Lightly butter a loaf tin then line with baking parchment (greaseproof paper).

In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a free-standing mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the lemon zest then slowly mix in the eggs, one at a time. If using a Kitchen Aid or other free-standing mixture, scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is evenly mixed. Once all of the eggs have been added add the flour, a little at a time until it's all incorporated. Don't over beat the mixture. Add the cake mix to the lined loaf tin, level the top so that it's even then bake in the pre-heated oven for 45-50 minutes (mine took closer to 60 minutes) or until a skewer comes out clean (with no cake mixture on it).

Make the topping by combining the lemon juice and sugar together in a small bowl. While the cake is still warm prick lots of holes in it using either a skewer or a fork then drizzle over the topping. The idea is that the juice will keep the cake lovely and moist, and not to mention lemony(!) while the sugar forms a nice crisp topping. I found mine did that although certainly not as much as in the photograph of the original recipe – however it was still delicious with the perfect balance of sweet and sour!

Leave the cake in its tin to cool completely then when ready to serve, remove and cut into slices. For a picnic you could either cut the slices and wrap them individually for everyone or just wrap up the whole loaf and don't forget a knife!

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