Friday, 11 October 2013

A Tart for Thanksgiving

Canadian Thanksgiving is right around the corner.  What I wouldn't give to head back to my youth for my mom's Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings and the beautifully decorated table, extended family gathered together, eating off the fancy china and everything.  Not that it couldn't happen now - it's just harder to get everyone together.  For one, it's a bit of a boat ride to head back for one dinner.  Not that time travel is any more of a possibility.

In looking for something to make with sweet potatoes other than the traditional sweetened version from my mom's recipe files or this more American version with marshmallows (don't knock it 'fore you try it!) I came across this recipe for a galette made with sweet potatoes, caramelised onions and goat's cheese.  And the star ingredient - balsamic vinegar.  The onions were caramelised with a little sugar and vinegar which I felt gave the dish a deeper flavour and the whole thing was absolutely delicious.

OK.  Not the whoooole thing.  And it had nothing to do with the recipe.  Having followed the recipe for the filling exactly, which turned out perfectly, I went severely wrong when I lacked some of the ingredients to make the pastry and decided to wing it.  Winging pastry results in, well, not so good results.  When making this again I will follow the recipe to the letter buy a puff pastry base. 

If I knew how to put a big red cross over this image I would.  No no no - don't wing pastry.

I did discover, however, that balsamic vinegar gives boring, old sauteed spinach a bit of a kick when I splashed a little in the pan thinking the side might complement the tart.  It really did.  So a minor disaster with pastry turned into victory dance for spinach.  And not just the metaphorical kind - I might have actually danced a little.

I think individual versions of this tart on a puff pastry base would make a great starter to Thanksgiving dinner.  Might be on the menu this weekend!  With a side dish of balsamic spinach.  If you're celebrating Thanksgiving this weekend, what's on your menu? 

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Couscous Creation

We have had an amazing summer here in England.  I could probably count on one hand how many times it rained.  Best summer since moving here 7 years ago!  Can't say I spent it on the beach sunning myself or throwing backyard barbeques but I got a heck of a lot of laundry done.  We don't have a dryer so being able to rely on the sunshine this summer was great.  Sad, I know.  I'm blaming the gorgeous weather on why I haven't blogged in a while and of course, the obsessive need to get my laundry done before the next few years of rain set in.

I made a few dishes over the summer months that I obviously didn't share but since this week has been unseasonably warm (let's face it, the summer was unseasonably warm) I thought I'd share a couscous salad that was lovely and light for summer but also a good filling dish for winter and can be served warm too.

The hubs and I went to Tunisia a couple of years ago to get a bit (ok, a lot!) of sun and I loved all of the various couscous dishes we tried.  The other half hates couscous (he suffered a little on the food side of the trip) so I don't often make it.  So when he was away, I took the opportunity to make this salad:

I also made this version a few weeks later:

It's something you can just throw together with ingredients you have on hand.  I had leftover roast chicken, dried apricots, raisins and goat's cheese on hand, so it's what I used to mix up this delicious lunch.  Lasts quite a few days in the fridge so you could made this on a Sunday night and have lunch for the week.  Serve it with hummus for some extra flavour and protein.

The butternut squash, cranberries and goat's cheese couscous salad recipe can be found here at theKitchn.  I didn't use orange zest and substituted white wine vinegar for cider vinegar and all turned out well.  I also added chopped fresh basil.

Below you'll find the recipe for my chicken, apricot and raisin version.  Don't have leftover chicken?  I'd serve the couscous warm with all of the other ingredients along with cooked chicken legs. Yum.

Couscous Salad

1 cup cooked chicken, cubed
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup apricots, chopped
1 cup water
1 cup uncooked couscous
4-5 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoons salt
1 can chickpeas, drained
3 oz goat cheese

fresh basil and parsley, roughly chopped or torn

Cover the raisins and apricot with very hot water and set them aside to plump. Drain before combining with the other ingredients.
Place 1 cup of couscous in a bowl. Boil 1 cup of water in the kettle and pour over the couscous, gently stirring. Cover and let sit for about 10-15 minutes until the couscous has absorbed all the water. Fluff the couscous with a fork and set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, olive oil, spices, salt.
In a large bowl, combine chicken, couscous, chickpeas, and drained raisins and apricots and fresh herbs. Pour the dressing over the salad and stir to combine. Crumble the goat cheese into chunks with your fingers and gently fold them into the salad. Season with salt if needed.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Window Box Herb Garden

The weather has been absolutely gorgeous in England.  A few days ago, I actually uttered the words "Oh my God, it's hot out!" for the first time since moving here 7 years ago.  But I'm not complaining about the heat - I'll take it over rain any day.  I've worn summer pyjamas usually reserved for holidays abroad and I'm digging the criss cross tan lines I have going on on my feet from my sandals.  People here are going nuts for the weather - according to a report on Yahoo, there has been a "sausage surge" and paddling pool sales are up 816%.  I have indulged in a few sausages on a bun with a whole lot of mustard and even eyed up a pool which seemed to fit 2 adults and 2 children comfortably.  They looked like they were having a darn good time in the picture on the front of the box but I passed - I had visions of spending most of my time searching for holes to cover with duct tape (as I did in my youth) instead of floating around on my lilo.

A few weeks ago we spent some time sprucing up the back garden.  A new fence, some hanging baskets, a few potted plants and changing out the bark mulch for plum slate really made a difference.  One thing that does double duty, as in nice on the eyes and the tummy, is my window box herb garden.  I used two metal window boxes that affix to the wall and planted 4 different herbs that I purchased from the supermarket.  I went with living herbs from Morrison's for £1.00 each because I don't have a very green thumb or very much patience.  Just plant them in compost, water and they're ready to go.

I planted basil, chives, mint, and parsley.  The herbs last all summer and are used frequently in the dishes I cook.  And it looks darn purty when I look out my kitchen window.  Now I just have to remember to water them - something not generally required in rainy England!

Friday, 24 May 2013

Something For The Weekend: A Full English Breakfast

Vegetarians, look away now.  It's a meat feast.

A full English typically contains: bacon, sausage, fried egg, black pudding, mushrooms, tomatoes, and beans.  Served with tea and toast it really is true to it's name; if you're not full afterwards, you've got problems.

Making this at home can be quite a challenge for the first timer.  Save it for the weekend - it takes some time.  Planning is key.  You need to have enough pans, know what your going to cook in each and where and get the timing right.  The microwave can come in handy for beans and tomatoes (if using plum from a tin).  I think I got it right last weekend when I cooked the bacon, sausage, black pudding and tomatoes together in my grill pan, beans in one saucepan and mushrooms in another.  I also threw a few hashbrowns in the oven, which is not exactly British tradition but it's sometimes included in cafe breakfast which makes the Irish in me very happy.  The husband thinks potatoes for breakfast are a no-no.

This breakfast has taken me a few years to get right - and it's by no means perfect.  But everything is ready nearly on time and most importantly tastes great - yes, even the black pudding (admittedly I can't eat the whole thing - it tastes great but then I begin to think about what I'm eating and I'm easily put off).  Now if I could just figure out a way to minimise clean up...

Oh yeah - go to the cafe! 

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Perfect for a Party: Strawberry Fruit Dip

I was visiting my aunt and uncle a couple of weeks ago along with my bro and the mister; a last visit before my brother went back to Canada (sad face).  I was telling her how I had pretty much cleared out my maple syrup stash and she started checking the cupboards for some Canadian treats to give me.  I wasn't going to take the last of her Kraft peanut butter but I think I came away with something even more tasty - and it wasn't from Canada!

Behold.  American favourite - Marshmallow Fluff.

The strawberry one.  I stopped myself from eating it straight from the jar...fine, I had a couple spoonfuls, but that's it I swear.  The rest was used to make this oh so fabulous dip.  It's easy, looks fancy and served with fruit it's a winner on the health scale - am I right?!  And though you can find it at shops specialising in American food, they're usually expensive.  I found some Fluff at TK Maxx for under £2.

Perfect for a birthday treat, get together or just for eating in front of the TV - which is how it was demolished (mostly by me) over here last week.  Just thoroughly mix plain cream cheese and fluff to desired taste.  That. Is. It.


Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Sweet and Simple Vanilla Birthday Cupcakes

Happy Birthday to meeeeeee!!!

It's no secret that I'm a huge cupcake fan.  I've been known to buy 4 cupcakes (hey, it's cheaper really) and eat them all - on the same day - okay within an hour!  The frosting to cupcake ratio has to be right - ie. LOTS of frosting per cake.  I like when my cheeks tingle from all the sugar.  The sweeter the better!

I had a look on Pinterest for some inspiration and scoured the regular old interweb for ideas but eventually decided on plain and simple vanilla cupcakes with vanilla buttercream.  Simple and sweet.

Now to settle in for a takeaway (I'm not cooking on my birthday!) and top it off with a cupcake...or 6!  I've already had an appetiser cupcake - but that was purely to test it, of course!

Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream - Adapted from Joy of Baking
Makes 12 cupcakes

For the cupcakes
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup butter (room temperature)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup milk

For the buttercream
2 cups icing sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp milk

Preheat oven to 175°C (350°F) and line a muffin tin with 12 cupcake cases.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Next, add the eggs one at a time beating well each time.  Finally, add in the vanilla extract.

With the mixer on low, add half of the flour to the butter mixture and incorporate.  Then add the milk and the rest of the flour, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Fill the cupcake cases evenly with the batter and bake for about 15 minutes.  Keep an eye on the cupcakes so as not to over bake or they will become dry.  Toothpick inserted the centre of the centre cake should come out clean.

For the buttercream:

Beat the butter until creamy.  Add the vanilla.  Gradually add the icing sugar.  Blend in the milk until icing becomes light and fluffy.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Let's Start Birthday Week With Rice Paper Spring Rolls

It's my birthday this week.  Tomorrow to be exact.  I like it when my birthday falls in the middle of the week - easy to stretch the festivities for a week because you're more likely to celebrate at the weekend.  So, without further ado, let ChloĆ©'s birthday week commence.

A couple of years ago, due to a scheduling conflict (stag do organised on my birthday - how dare they?!)  I spent the night alone.  My brother and husband we're out for the night and I could eat whatever I wanted and watch whatever I wanted.  I was not complaining.  Of course, I made sure both parties felt a little guilty before they left but really I couldn't wait to get Top Gear off the telly and eat as much seafood as I could fit in my face.  As soon as they left I was out the door and made my way to the supermarket.  I had decided to go with Thai; rice paper spring rolls to start, followed by fish cakes, and a red curry with prawns for my main and had a leisurely stroll up and down the aisles filling my basket with all the required ingredients.  They must have known it was my birthday because they had every single ingredient in the store which is rare because it's small with limited "exotic" items and has a limited international aisle.  I mean they had lemongrass (they never have lemongrass).  This hasn't happened since.

The fella had bought me a food processor for my birthday (along with a coffee maker I'd been coveting for a couple of years).  The man is nothing if not practical.  His workmates we're worried that he was getting me appliances and not jewellery but he assured them it was fine; he'd bought me a Dyson for Valentine's Day the year before, which I carried home myself, and I was thrilled.  That's not to say I won't take jewellery.  Hint hint.

Anyway, I used the new food processor to make the fish cakes and blend my paste for the curry.  Everything turned out perfectly.  I stuffed my face to whatever 3 star chick flick I had decided to watch and enjoyed every minute of it.  This is where I would show you pictures because I definitely took some but when our computer died a couple years ago I don't think all of the pictures made it to the back up hardrive.  But imagine the finest Thai curry you've ever seen - that was my meal. 

It took me another two years to recreate even a little part of it.  And here it is:

 I made these rice paper spring rolls a couple weeks ago as a starter to a beef stir-fry.  I didn't follow a recipe (surprised?!) and you don't have to either.  Last time I made them I put prawns in them but kept these seafood free for the mister.  I went with thinly sliced cucumber, red cabbage and carrot, some noodles we were having with our stir-fry tossed in sesame oil, and crushed peanuts.  And they're pretty easy to assemble.  Breaking to get a picture of it; not so easy.

The lighting in my kitchen is so bad but you get the jist.

Just soak the rice paper pancake (one at a time) in some hot water for a few seconds until it becomes soft but not too much so it breaks up.  Lay it on a flat surface (I leave a little hanging over the edge of the chopping board to grab for rolling up), place your filling inside and roll by folding the two ends in and rolling the rest from one side to the other.  There are Youtube videos if your more of a visual learner (like moi).

For the sauce, I used about a 1/4 cup of rice wine vinegar, a splash of fish sauce and finely chopped chili, garlic and coriander.  The next day this made an incredible sauce for a tuna stir-fry.

Man, now I want Thai food.  I wish there was some place nearby that delivered!