Thursday, September 29, 2011

Summer Meatballs with Heirloom Tomato Sauce & Fresh Pasta

Considering the name of this dish, I'm definitely a little late with posting this recipe but I just had to include it! Admittedly I did mean to add it earlier (particularly before my Goodbye Summer post) but I had so many recipes to share and to be honest had been hoping that Summer was going to last a little longer than it did! Cest' la vie, but I thought this recipe still had to be included so I'm making it for those of you that are still basking in the sun (especially those of you in the UK enjoying a fantastic Indian Summer!). And for those of us that aren't this is still delicious, regardless of the season!

This isn't really a mid-week meal as it does take a bit of time but I think it makes a fantastic casual meal to have with friends at the weekend. Serve it with a nice big salad, some bread if you fancy and of course a glass or two of wine!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Reader Challenge Choice {No. 2}

Well it's that time again so thank you to everyone that chose a book for me to review for the 2nd month! There were 17 books in total so I let Random.Org do the work for me and it chose book number........(drum roll please!).....3. I had to laugh when I checked to see what book it was as this was actually a Father's Day present for my husband whose favourite ingredient has to be this item - that's right, book number 3 is I Love Bacon by Jayne Rockmill! Needless to say my husband is especially delighted at this months review so thank you to Lo-Mo for picking this book.

As with last month I hope to have the recipes tested out and the booked reviewed by the middle of October so stay tuned to see how I get on!

Thank you to everyone that took the time to choose a book and thank you again to Lo-Mo for such a fantastic choice!

True Random Number Generator 3 Powered by RANDOM.ORG

**Due to a last minute change of travel plans I'm afraid this review won't be posted until a later date....most likely November. I'm so sorry but I would like to do the book justice and won't have time to test out the recipes. Thanks for your understanding.**

Monday, September 26, 2011

Roasted Peppers & Chillies

Another recipe that isn't really a recipe but is something that shouldn't be missed. These peppers have infinite possibilities which is why they are so good. I eat them on warm toasted garlicky ciabatta smothered with goats cheese, tossed through pasta and risotto, on pizzas and with sausages. They are also ideal as part of an antipasto platter.

I prefer to char my peppers on the barbecue as it gives them a delicious smokey flavour, however you can always roast them in a hot oven or even under the grill. The main thing is you want to blister the skins and turn them ash black which you later peel off, leaving the juiciest, delicious peppers possible.
Sine its pepper and chilli season just now and I have 8 chilli plants all producing lots of chillies I added a couple of large mild green chillies to my peppers which is totally an optional extra. For a spicy version you could add some hot chillies or if you prefer made the original recipe then you can change and adapt it later on adding fresh chillies and garlic. However you decide to make these, you'll love having them in your fridge and wonder why they weren't there before.

1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
1 orange pepper
2 large, mild green chillies
Olive oil

Prick the peppers and chillies with the tip of a sharp knife (just a few times) to stop them from exploding on the barbecue! Put them all on a hot barbecue (or as noted above in a hot oven or under the grill) and let them really char on all sides. You want them to get as black as possible. As soon as they are black all over put them into a bowl and cover tightly with cling film (Saran wrap), or alternatively pop them into a large sandwich bag and seal. Leave them to steam and cool for at least 10 minutes. Once cooled simply start peeling the skin away from the peppers and remove the stem and seeds. Don't wash them as you will loose the delicious smoky charred taste. Once you have peeled all of the peppers and chillies simply cut them into long thin strips then put into a jar that you can seal. Top with olive oil then eat them whenever you want some delicious, roasted peppers.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Goodbye Summer {With My Top 10 Summer Recipes}

It's hard to believe it but it seems that Summer has made a very abrupt disappearance! Last Monday was 30 degrees with blue skies and not a cloud in sight and I was writing a post entitled “Too Hot to Cook” featuring two of my favourite salad recipes. Tuesday however was a new day and apparently a new season. Overnight while no one was looking the sun decided to quietly disappear and instead bowed down and allowed the inevitable cooler temperatures to take over, accompanied by lots of grey clouds and drizzly rain showers..... I tried for a while to ignore everyone's comments about Summer being officially over at the start of September and the warning signs of the leaves changing colour and the appearance of pumpkin patches, but now with the change of weather I guess I have to admit defeat for another year! However before we move on to the warming, comfort meals of Autumn and Winter I thought I would do a quick roundup of Summer including my Top 10 Summer Recipes from 2011. It was a slow start to the summer this year but it turned out to be a great one! I hope you all had a lovely summer!

Long Beach Camping Weekend

Family trip to the Rockies


My beautiful Roses

And my stunning lillies!

It wasn't an easy task to pick just 10 but here they are....Enjoy!

Top 10 Summer Recipes of 2011

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mozzarella & Chilli Bruschetta

I'm a cheese fanatic! I absolutely love it and if I had to choose between cheese and desserts for the rest of my life I would choose cheese – hands down! (Although don't get me wrong, I do love desserts, I just love cheese that much!) Whenever I'm asked what my favourite cheese is though I really struggle but what I can say is that Mozzarella – that is good quality mozzarella – is definitely up there at the top! Tomato and Mozzarella Salad is my favourite salad by far and I really struggle not to order it if I see it on the menu, so of course Bruschetta with Mozzarella on it is really a no-brainer as far as I'm concerned!

And then there is chilli.....for those of you that know me, and those of you that are regular readers of my blog, you know I love chillies! I think it has actually turned into a bit of an addiction if that's possible. I don't claim to be someone who can eat insanely hot curries or chicken wings but I do like heat so the combination of mild, soft and milky mozzarella spiked with the fresh warming heat of a chilli is a match made in heaven. My chillies were a little late in ripening this year (what isn't after the summer we've had here)but they are finally turning vibrant, fiery red so this is without doubt the best time to eat this delicious bruschetta. For the photographs here I was lucky enough to get a combination of red, yellow and orange chillies which makes it even more special than it already is. Use whatever you can get but try and keep an eye out for different colours and types of chillies.

So here you have it....another one of my all time favourite recipes with 2 of my favourite ingredients.
Serves 4

8 slices of ciabatta bread
Olive oil
1 clove of garlic, sliced in half
2 balls of mozzarella
2 chillies, finely chopped
Maldon salt
Small basil leaves
Good quality extra virgin olive oil

Drizzle a little oil over both sides of the ciabatta and grill until golden (I use my paninni press for perfect char lines, that plus it's easy!). Once the ciabatta is toasted rub a little garlic on one side – you don't need much for the taste to get through. After that all you have to do is tear or cut the mozzarella and top each slice of ciabatta with it. Scatter over the chopped chillies then finish with a good pinch of Maldon salt (or other finishing salt), a few small basil leaves and a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Easy and so delicious!

My Indoor Chilli Plant

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Zucchini & Lemon Spaghetti

zucchini and lemon spaghetti
I love this pasta dish, not just because it tastes delicious, but because it takes no time at all to make so it's great for a quick and easy mid-week meal. I use my julienne peeler (it looks like a vegetable peeler but with razor sharp teeth!) to create long beautiful shards of zucchini that mimic the spaghetti perfectly. If you can, use yellow zucchini but failing that ordinary green zucchini tastes just as delicious.

Serves 2 {easily doubled}

200g linguine
1 yellow zucchini
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
Zest of 1 lemon and juice of ½ – 1 depending on how juicy it is
Small handful of fresh basil leaves
2 tbsp toasted pine nuts

Freshly grated Parmesan, to serve

Cook the spaghetti in a large pan of boiling, salted water according to the packet instructions.

Shred the zucchini either using a julienne peeler or by peeling ribbons with a vegetable peeler then cutting the ribbons into thin, long strips (or if you prefer for ease you could always just grate it!).

While the pasta is cooking heat 2 tbsp of the olive oil in a frying pan. Gently saute the garlic and chilli for a minute or two being careful not to brown the garlic at all. Add the shredded zucchini and lemon zest then remove it from the heat. When the spaghetti is ready add it to the zucchini along with a tablespoon of the cooking water. Squeeze over the lemon juice then drizzle over the remaining extra virgin olive oil. Season with a good pinch of sea salt then toss everything together so the spaghetti and zucchini are evenly coated in the lemony-oil and garlic mixture. Scatter over some basil leave reserving a few for garnish then divide into serving bowls. Finish off with a few more basil leaves, the pine nuts an extra drizzle of olive oil (optional) and some freshly grated, easy and completely delicious!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Reader Challenge {No. 2}

With the first Reader Challenge being such a success, I have decided to turn this into a monthly challenge (assuming you all stay interested!). As mentioned in the first challenge this is a great opportunity for me to actually use my books, try them out and not just read them like they are novels! On top of that it is a fun way to get me to finally write reviews on some of the books I have but more so reviews of books you want reviewed, not just what I pick!

To keep things fair I have decided to 'roll-over' (so to speak!) the books from last month that weren't picked. That way you aren't picking the same ones every month and the choice of books for me to cook from will continue to grow. I'm guessing eventually when the list becomes too long I'll pause the choices for a while and just work my way through what has been already been chosen.....sound fair?

*(Let me know if you think that I shouldn't carry over the previous books – it's your Reader Challenge so you decide what you think is fair!)*

So as a reminder here 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 this month for suggestions is September 26th 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 at least 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 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!

The Books Chosen so far:

Lotte's Country Kitchen – Lotte Duncan
The Richard Corrigan Cookbook – Richard Corrigan
I Love Bacon – Jayne Rockmill
Willie's Chocolate Factory Cookbook – Willie Harcourt-Cooze
Grand Livre de Cuisine: Alain Ducasse's Desserts & Pastries – Alain Ducasse
The Clatter of Forks & Spoons – Richard Corrigan
Leaves from the Walnut Tree – Ann & Franco Taruschio
Vegetarian Supercook – Rose Elliot
Cookbook by Martin Wishart
The French Kitchen – Joanne Harris & Fran Warde
Barefoot Contessa at Home – Ina Garten
How to be a Domestic Goddess - Nigella Lawson
Bouchon – Thomas Keller
La Potiniere – David & Hilary Brown

Books Reviewed

Friday, September 16, 2011

Blueberry Pancakes with Blueberry Maple Syrup

My third pancake recipe on this blog but I couldn't resist as we have been eating so many wonderful local blueberries recently and so of course I had to make Blueberry Pancakes! What really makes this special however is the Blueberry Maple Syrup. You can use frozen blueberries if you can't get fresh ones but I recommend trying this delicious breakfast before blueberry season is over. Treat yourself this weekend with these pancakes – its what weekends are for!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cookbook Review ~ Diva Cooking: Unashamedly Glamourous Party Food

I was so excited when I came up with the idea of my first Reader Challenge and even more delighted that so many of you took the time to look through my rather extensive cookbook collection (!) and choose a book that you wanted me to review! All the choices were fantastic and before the book was chosen I knew I would be happy to review any of the selected books. In the end however I used the random number generator (to keep things fair) and it selected book number 13 which was Diva Cooking: Unashamedly Glamourous Party Food by Victoria Blashford-Snell & Jennifer Joyce.

Diva Cooking was first published in 2001 (although I didn't buy it until roughly 2004 when I was living in Edinburgh). The authors both worked at Notting Hill's infamous Books for Cooks so have had more than their fair share of experience not only when it comes to cooking, but also on reading and testing other cookbooks.

At first glance:

There are 12 chapters in total ranging from Diva Canapes, Diva Tarts and Diva Birds, to Diva Cooking, which provides information on herbs and spices and Diva Parties which offers helpful advice on planning a party including plenty of menu suggestions, ideal for when you are stuck for ideas of what to serve. The recipe chapters all contain a real selection so I can guarantee you will find something that suits. As promised on the insert, for every recipe there are plenty of tips on cooking and serving your dish as well as advice on cooking techniques and diva do's and don'ts.

The recipes:

As per the rules of the Challenge I was to pick (a minimum of) 3 recipes which were to include something that I really liked the look of; something that was a little more advanced and not generally something I would ordinarily make, and thirdly something that I have never tried before (subject to being able to get the ingredients). I had no problems with the first one...there were plenty of recipes that I fancied. The second and the third requirements though were a little harder to meet since none of the recipes were overly complicated or used ingredients that I hadn't used before so on that note I hope you approve of the recipes I chose!

This book is filled with so many delicious recipes it was hard to choose just I didn't! In the end I chose 5 recipes to try out and I'm glad that I did! First things first though, since this is a book intended to be used as recipes for parties – either large parties or dinner parties - all recipes serve 8 or more. Since I had no parties planned I had to adapt some of the recipes for just the 2 of us but they still worked well. I did however manage to get together some of my friends for a play date so they were the guinea pigs for my first two recipes.

The Chosen Recipes

Spiced Corn Cakes with Avocado-Lime Salsa
Heavenly Chunky-Chewy Chocolate Cookies
Olive Oil & Sea Salt Bread
Grilled Indonesian Coconut Chicken
Spicy Crab Cakes with Tomato Coriander Salsa

Up first was the Spicy Corn Cakes with Avocado Lime Salsa. Everyone agreed it was a hit, however we all felt that the cakes needed a lot more corn in them as they were more like pancakes with a little bit of corn through them. They could also have done with being crispier for a tastier finish. The Avocado Lime Salsa was good although I used less onion than suggested and it was more than enough. I also added the cilantro to the salsa rather than using it purely as a garnish and it rounded the salsa off perfectly. To be honest though as much as my friends enjoyed them I have to say I don't think I'll be in a hurry to make them again.

What I will be making again though is recipe number 2 that I tried – Heavenly Chocolate Chip Cookies. As soon as I started making them I knew they couldn't be bad as they contain more than a pound of chocolate in some form or other – you read right, more than 1 pound (1lb)!!! Of course they didn't disappoint and as was advised in the book, they disappeared fast! They were a huge hit with everyone and I was happy to send everyone home with some extra cookies (apparently for their husbands but I have a feeling they may not have even lasted the journeys home)!

Recipe number 3 was a last minute decision at the weekend as I fancied some homemade bread, so I tried out the Olive Oil & Sea Salt Bread. I'm not much of a bread maker so I liked the idea of this recipe as it sounded quite similar to my Pizza Dough recipe that I love. The bread was easy to make (made easier by letting my Kitchen Aid do all the kneading!) and had no issues rising! Where I did find some issues was that at the end of the instructions it simply said “Follow individual recipes from here”. Now while that might sound easy enough there was only 1 other recipe calling for the basic Olive Oil & Sea Salt Bread, despite the introduction saying to use this “master recipe for most of the breads in this chapter”. I'm not sure if they cut down and maybe didn't print as many bread recipes as originally intended but there are only 3 in total and the third doesn't use the master recipe! So, here I was just wanting to make a simple loaf of bread with no cooking time or oven temperature! Definitely a down fall in this chapter. In the end I set the temperature to that suggested for the Miniature Foccaccia topped with Caramelized Onions, and gave it 25-30 minutes. The first loaf could have done with another 5 minutes or so as the inside had a touch of doughy consistency but the second loaf which I put into a loaf pan was fine. Despite not having cooking times and temperatures I will make this recipe again, perhaps just tweaking it here and there for my own tastes.

For the Grilled Indonesian Coconut Chicken I halved the recipe so that it served 4 and made it for my husband and I one Sunday evening with leftovers for the next day. First thing to note, the recipe missed out the quantity of ginger needed, but no big deal – I just put in about a 1 inch piece. With the recipe halved I found I had more than enough marinade...perhaps my chicken thighs were just smaller but there was certainly plenty. That being said, it smelt and looked delicious so I wasn't complaining! We cooked it on the barbecue as suggested and it turned out amazing – honestly, so good! I served it with rice (as suggested) and added some coriander, spring onions and a little lime zest and juice. It complimented the chicken perfectly which was served on a plate with a scattering of coriander and I added a fresh chilli that I sliced and sprinkled over the top for a bit more heat. It was so good we devoured it in record time. In retrospect I wish I had reserved some of the extra marinade and rather than pouring it over the chicken I would have held it back and warmed it up to have a little sauce. I'm definitely someone that likes condiments and sauces so to me it could have done with that just to finish it off perfectly, so next time I'll definitely do that – and trust me there will be a next time – probably very soon! I can't stress enough how good this was!

{Sorry no pics - we couldn't wait to eat it!!}

The following night I made the Spicy Crab Cakes with Tomato Coriander Salsa. I cheated slightly with the Crab Cakes and used bought Mayonnaise rather than making my own – it was after all a mid-week meal and since I halved the recipe I only needed 125ml. The first thing I noticed when making these crab cakes was that there was a lot of filler and not so much crab. The mixture was also incredibly wet – a slight concern, however I continued and followed the recipe to a tee. What resulted was a nice crab cake but super moist and unsurprisingly not hugely flavoured with crab. The Tomato Coriander Salsa also needed tweaking... initially I followed the recipe (although cutting up my tomatoes smaller than suggested) but I ended up with a salsa that was far too twangy! It had so much bite from the lime I had to adjust it. I added a little olive oil which mellowed it slightly but it was still a little sharp for my liking. Together they went well but there was definitely no need for any extra lime wedges! I liked the flavour of these crab cakes and salsa but next time I will definitely adjust the recipe with far more crab and less breadcrumbs. I very rarely make crab cakes (as in have made them two or three times!) but this recipe has inspired me to make them more often.

 I desperately wanted to make the Prawn Dumplings in Fragrant Thai Broth (see below!) but unfortunately I ran out of time. That plus my husband being away a lot made this book even more challenging – recipes to serve 8 for 1?! Best not! However, I am going to make that dish this weekend when he's home so I'll update the post once I've done it!

Overall rating/ review:

This book is definitely a welcome addition on my bookshelves and I will certainly use it again. Although admittedly it is a book primarily aimed at a female demographic (due of course to the name and bright pink cover) I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to everyone as the recipes are so good, and would strongly suggest if you are a guy that likes hosting parties to buy it.

There are a few downsides to this book however, but they are minor. Some of the ingredients used are hard to find so I was unable to make a couple of recipes. You could adapt those recipes to use ingredients that you can easily source or in future be better prepared and order hard to find ingredients online! Also if you're looking for a book with photographs for each recipe, you won't find it here. There are only photos for some of the recipes so depending on how much you rely on pictures don't expect every recipe to have an accompanying picture. That being said the pictures that are there are all beautiful shots of mouth-watering meals! As mentioned there were a couple of mistakes regarding quantities, cooking times and temperatures but it didn't ruin any recipes – they just seemed to be small editing errors.

Out of the five recipes I tried my favourite would probably have to be the Grilled Indonesian Coconut Chicken but as far as I was concerned there were they were all pretty good. My least favourite was definitely the Spiced Corn Cakes with Avocado-Lime Salsa but with some changes I will try to make them again. On top of the recipes I made I also have quite a few more recipes bookmarked that I would like to try in future including Crispy Crab & Cream Cheese Wontons; Spicy Prawns with Moroccan Tomato Jam; Brochettes of Lemon Chicken, Sage & Croutons with Red Pepper Aioli and Wild Mushroom & Smoked Mozzarella Tart. Mrs Dobson used to tell me that if you could find one recipe from a cookbook that you like and would make then it was worth buying the book! If that's the case then this book is definitely worth buying as there are a lot of recipes that I loved and will cook again!


Overall this book definitely has my stamp of approval and I would recommend it to all of you!

*Update! {September 17th}

Last night I made the Prawn Dumplings in Fragrant Thai Broth and so I had to include it here, as it was as my husband put it “awesome”! Seriously fantastic! We are both lovers of Thai soups and this one has become our new favourite by far. The broth was so aromatic and had the perfect balance of sour, sweet, spicy and salty. I made a mistake with the Prawn Dumplings and forgot to season them but they were fine without the seasoning – really delicious. They were also really easy to make (another bonus) as all the work is done by your food processor, then you simply just drop small spoonfuls into the simmering soup at the end and leave them for a few minutes to cook. I can guarantee that I will be making this over and over again....with or without the dumplings as it would also be delicious with prawns, chicken, tofu or just some other vegetables. My husband also suggested adding some bamboo shoots next time which would also taste great and add some more crunch. I added some fresh chillies (what's new!) which gave it a lovely heat but if you prefer yours mild just follow the recipe and skip the chillies. So there you go - recipe number 6 and another hit! This book really is a must have book!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes {Two Ways}

My brother-in-law was recently commenting how he was finding it hard to find sun-dried tomatoes here in Canada. I knew what he meant – I too had searched when I first moved here for sweet and juicy tomatoes in oil rather than the dried ones in a packet which I find tough, super chewy and not at all like the sun-dried tomatoes I expected or was used to getting in the UK. So when I next saw a jar of sun-dried tomatoes in oil I immediately bought it for him without thinking. But then it occurred to me....why not make my own! Now of course with the climate here in Canada (although it has been beautiful the past few weeks) I would need something a little warmer than the sun so I made up a batch of slow roasted cherry tomatoes. It takes a little bit of time and yes it does mean the oven is on for 3 hours but it's at a very low temperature, and believe me, it's worth it! The end result is the sweetest, juiciest tomato you could ever imagine – so sweet, it's like candy! Needless to say he was more than delighted when I turned up on his door step with a jar of them for him!

A couple of weeks later I fancied some more but I didn't have 3 hours to spare so I made a faster version which only took 45 minutes. The end result isn't quite as intensified but it is a great substitute when you are short on time!

Either way both of these versions are delicious but I would recommend if you have the time try the slow-roasted version first. These tomatoes can be used for so many things so it's not a bad idea in the summer to keep a jar in the fridge. Serve them as part of an antipasti plate, on toasted ciabatta with goats cheese, in salads, stuffed in chicken and of course tossed through pasta – it's a fast and easy way to transform any dish. And if you're really looking for something a bit different you could whizz them up in food processor and turn them into a sweet roasted tomato paste ready to be tossed through hot spaghetti for a really special but simple meal.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Potato Wedges

Not the most exciting post and recipe but Potato Wedges are eaten a lot in our house so I thought it time that they made an appearance on my blog! Since I don't own a deep-fryer any time we want chips or fries, this is what we have. They are delicious on their own but even better served with my Homemade Tomato Ketchup; Cheat's Aioli or for the ultimate indulgence my Basil Hollandaise! And for an extra special touch, just before serving sprinkle over some Chilli & Lime Salt.

Serve these wedges with Steak, Burgers, Crispy Chicken strips or even just on their own with a good old fried egg!

4 medium sized potatoes
2 tbsp mild olive oil or vegetable oil
¼ tsp sweet paprika
¼ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp onion powder
½ tsp Italian seasoning
Salt & Pepper

Preheat the oven to 425F/ 220C. Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise, then cut each half into 4 long wedges so that you have 8 wedges in total. Repeat with the remaining potatoes.

Place on a baking tray, drizzle with the oil then sprinkle with the paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Mix well (its best to use your hands at this point) so that all the wedges are evenly covered with the oil and spices.

Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes, turning half way through cooking, until they are crisp and golden on the outside, and light and fluffy inside.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Char-Grilled Steaks with Basil Hollandaise

During the colder Winter months Sunday's traditionally involve roasts or stews in our house, but in the warmer months nothing can beat a steak char-grilled on the coal barbecue. This recipe is a slight variation on the popular Steak with Bernaise Sauce, which to me is just as good - if not better!

I never thought I would say it but I have to admit this is one of my favourite meals. Before I got together with my husband I didn't eat that much red meat and certainly wouldn't go and buy myself a steak. Now however, I virtually crave steaks and furthermore it has to be medium-rare at most although if I'm being completely honest these days I'm leaning more towards the rare side! Nothing can beat a good quality steak perfectly seared on the barbecue served with a rich and delicious homemade hollandaise sauce. The addition of the basil is optional but being such a basil fanatic I can't resist. If you can't get fresh basil you could use parsley or chives instead or just miss the herbs out completely. If you can't grill the steaks on a BBQ then use either a hot griddle pan or failing that a regular frying pan.

Serves 2

2 Steaks of your choice – Strip Loin is a favourite of ours
Maldon sea salt & freshly ground black pepper (or try seasoning them with some Porcini Salt)

Hollandaise Sauce:
150g butter
2 large egg yolks
½ tsp white wine vinegar
Good pinch of Maldon sea salt
1 tsp cold water
8-10 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
Squeeze of lemon juice

To make the hollandaise sauce melt the butter in a small pan. Once it has melted skim off any white solids on the surface then set aside and keep warm. Put the egg yolks into a small bowl that will fit over a pan then add the vinegar, salt and water. Whisk for a minute or two until it is starting to thicken and turn pale then put the pan over a pan of barely simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water. Continue to whisk the eggs for a few more minutes until they are pale and thick. Remove the bowl of eggs from the heat then slowly drizzle in the melted butter, whisking continuously as you do, until all of the melted butter is incorporated and you have a perfectly smooth and thick sauce. Taste to check the seasoning then keep warm until you are ready to serve. Right before serving squeeze in a little lemon juice and add the basil. If the sauce is a little too thick for your liking add a little hot water until it's the consistency you want. Serve at once.

To cook the steaks season them with a little salt and pepper. Preheat the barbecue to medium-high then grill the steaks for 3-4 minutes per side for medium-rare. Remove from the heat then cover loosely with foil and leave to rest for at least 10 minutes. (If cooking the steaks on a griddle or frying pan heat the pan until hot then sear the steaks as above).

Once the steaks have rested serve at once with the basil hollandaise sauce either drizzled over the top or if you prefer in a separate dish on the side. To finish things off serve with some potato wedges and a crisp, green salad.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Spaghetti with Cherry Tomatoes, Chilli & Basil

It is the height of tomato season just now so I felt it necessary to warn you now that there are going to be a lot of tomato recipes coming up for the next couple of weeks! Apologies to those of you (my husband in particular!) that don't like tomatoes or can't eat them, but please bear with me!!

I of course am delighted that tomato season is finally in full force and can't get enough of them! My husband has been away a lot recently with work so I have been able to indulge myself with plenty of fresh tomatoes that I don't have to puree!! I've already made Tomato Ketchup and Slow-roasted Cherry Tomatoes (recipe will follow soon!) and of course I've been eating lots of Fresh Tomato Pasta, including my Spaghetti with Cherry Tomato Sauce and this Spaghetti with Cherry Tomatoes. What I love most about this recipe is that it is so light and fresh as it is a raw sauce using perfectly sweet and juicy cherry tomatoes. It also takes no time at all to make – just as long as it takes you to cook the spaghetti – so it's a perfect meal to have mid-week. Serve on its own or if you prefer with a green salad and some crusty bread.

400g spaghetti
450g cherry tomatoes – if you can try and get a variety of colours and shapes
1 red chilli, finely chopped (de-seeded if you prefer a milder taste)
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil – the best you have
Maldon sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
Small handful of fresh basil leaves
Freshly grated parmesan cheese to serve

Cook the spaghetti in a large pan of boiling, salted water according to the packet instructions. While the spaghetti is cooking prepare the tomatoes by cutting them in half or for larger ones into quarters. Put the tomatoes into a bowl then add the chilli, red wine vinegar, 3 tbsp of the olive oil and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Mix everything well so that the tomatoes are evenly coated in the dressing.

Just before draining the spaghetti add a tablespoon or two of the cooking water to the tomatoes. Drain the spaghetti then add to the tomatoes. Add the basil leaves, reserving a few for a garnish then toss everything together. Serve at once with the extra basil leaves and some freshly grated parmesan.

Monday, September 5, 2011

S'more Cupcakes

It's my sisters Birthday on September 6th but she is away travelling through America so I decided to give here a surprise early Birthday meal before she left! As it happened her last weekend before she was leaving was when we were all camping at Long Beach, so I decided the perfect Birthday cupcakes would be to try and make some S'more Cupcakes!

Growing up in Scotland, our sweet camping treat was simply toasted marshmallows so I had never heard of S'mores until I moved to Canada. That being said I had never tried them(until that weekend!) but understood the concept and thought a S'mores Cupcake would be delicious! Chocolate cupcake sponge topped with a fluffy and light marshmallow icing and finished with some cookie crumbs, a square of chocolate and of course some edible glitter! They turned out to be delicious and were the perfect way to celebrate her birthday while camping.

As usual I used the basic sponge recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook – this time opting for the chocolate cupcake recipe (with a little extra vanilla added), then using my own icing and toppings.

For the icing I used Fluff – the marshmallow spread in a jar. I hadn't eaten Fluff since I was about 14 when it first made an appearance in the UK (round about the same time as Tab Clear – that clear cola - came out!). Funnily enough I think I tried it once and that was it, however I have to say using it here in this icing is the perfect, and delicious way to use it! A word of warning though – it is messy and sticky to deal with, but isn't that the whole point of S'mores!?!

100g plain flour
20g cocoa powder
140g caster sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
40g unsalted butter, at room temperature
120ml milk
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Marshmallow Icing:
125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125g icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp milk
125g Fluff Marshmallow spread

To decorate:
2 Graham crackers
Squares of chocolate – your choice of milk or dark (I did both)
Edible glitter – I used a mix of Gold and Marigold (optional)

Preheat your oven to 170C/ 325F/ GM 3 and line a cupcake tin with medium sized paper cases.

Sift the flour cocoa power into the bowl of a Kitchen Aid (or other freestanding mixer) then add the sugar, baking powder, salt and butter and using the paddle attachment mix slowly until everything is combined and you have a sandy consistency (if you don't have a Kitchen Aid use a hand-held electric beater). While the mixer is running, slowly pour in half of the milk and mix until it's just incorporated. Add the egg to the remaining milk along with the vanilla and continue beating until it's mixed in. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is properly mixed but be careful not to over beat the mixture.

Evenly spoon the cake mixture into the cupcake cases and bake for 20-25 minutes until the sponge bounces back when touched (with my oven 22 minutes works perfectly every time) and a skewer comes out clean with put into the centre of the cake. Leave to cool for a few minutes then transfer the cupcakes onto a wire rack.

To make the icing, put the butter into a mixing bowl then sift over the icing sugar. Beat well until it is pale, light and creamy. Add the milk, vanilla and marshmallow fluff (this is the sticky messy part!) then beat well. It will almost be stringy to start but keep beating until you get a smooth, creamy and fluffy icing.

Once the cupcakes have cooled completely ice them with the Marshmallow Icing using a spatula (or if you prefer, a piping bag). To finish off the cupcakes put the Graham crackers (or digestives) into a sandwich bag and crush using a rolling pin until you have a fine rubble of crumbs, with a few slightly larger pieces in there as well. Sprinkle the biscuit crumbs over the cupcakes then add a sprinkling of edible glitter if you have some. Finish with a square of chocolate then serve and watch them disappear!

Happy Birthday Lauren! I hope you are having a great day xxx

{Looking at the photos I could have added more icing to my cupcakes.....there was more than enough left over, but it was getting dark as I was icing them and was in a bit of a rush!}

Some other pics from the day.......
Long Beach

The Birthday Tent!

My Beautiful Sister - the Birthday Girl!
*One Year Ago - Tomato Soup
**Two Years Ago - Spaghetti with Cherry Tomato Sauce

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Cherry & Amaretto Cheesecake

Before cherry season is gone for another year I wanted to make one more thing and this cheesecake is a favourite in our house so I thought it the perfect way to say goodbye to this years delicious cherry crop! The combination of cherry and amaretto is truly delicious and a perfect treat for adults, especially served with a glass of Amaretto!

This cheesecake is the perfect Summer cheesecake as it's a version that isn't baked in the oven. All that is required is a little bashing, beating, mixing and chilling and you have the most delicious, creamy cheesecake that won't leave you hot and bothered on a sunny day!

200g Amaretti Biscuits*
50g Digestive biscuits (or Graham crackers)
100g butter

500g cream cheese (such as Philadelphia), softened
1 vanilla pod, seeds removed**
100g icing sugar
4 tbsp amaretto liqueur
500ml double or whipping cream

500g cherries
30g icing sugar

Butter and line a 23cm loose-bottomed cake tin. Using either a food processor or a plastic sandwich bag and rolling pin, crush the biscuits until they are fine crumbs. Melt the butter in a medium sized pan, then once completely melted and the biscuit crumbs. Mix well then put into the cake tin, pressing down evenly to form a nice base. Chill in the fridge for 1 hour.

While the base is chilling make the filling. Put the cream cheese and the seeds from the vanilla pod into a large bowl then sift in the icing sugar. Beat well so the filling is soft and well mixed then add the amaretto liqueur and continue to mix well. In a separate bowl whisk the cream until it has soft peaks – be careful not to over whip it. Add the cream to the cheese mixture and fold it in until everything is well combined then pour it into the cake tin on top of the chilled biscuit base. Smooth the top with a spatula and return the cheesecake to the fridge until just before serving. Ideally it needs a good few hours to chill and set – overnight is best – but definitely a minimum of 3 hours.

To make the cherry topping, stone the cherries (I don't yet have a cherry pitter so I just cut them in half, twist to separate the two halves then remove the stone, but if you do own a pitter I definitely recommend using it!), then put the cherries into a medium sized pan. Sift in the icing sugar and mix well. Add a tablespoon of water then simmer gently for roughly 10 minutes until they have softened slightly and have a bit of a syrupy sauce. Leave to cool completely.

To serve the cheesecake carefully remove from the cake tin and put onto a serving plate. Just before serving spoon the cherries on top – you might not need all of the juice, but I like to drizzle it on top of the cherries.

* If you prefer you can use 250g of Amaretti biscuits – I only had 200g so I made the rest up with ordinary biscuits.

**To remove the seeds from a vanilla pod all you have to do is cut the pod in half lengthwise then using the back of a small knife simply scrape the seeds out of the pod.

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