Thai Green Curry & Tammy’s Tail

I’m in a dog place just now.  Or at least, I will be in a few short hours.  Humour me whilst I explain.  🙂

 Tammy arrives today.  Tammy the Golden Retriever with the most waggy tail in the world and absolutely no spacial awareness whatsoever.  Everything tail height (plants, ornaments, lamps…) must be secured or moved before her arrival or risk being swept into oblivion by her excited bum waggling.  She’s such a sweetie!

 

 

Once Tammy, whose travelling companions are my lovely Aunt Val and Uncle Henry, leaves I will be heading down to Aberdeenshire to spend a couple of days with my best friend (Hi Gen!) and her adorable Working Cocker Spaniel, Rufus.

 

 

And then, on Tuesday, I’ll be picking up Rosie (my brother’s cocker spaniel) and taking her home with me for A WHOLE WEEK! 

 

A WHOLE WEEK!  Those of you who know me (or who read my recent meme) will understand just how excited I am about the prospect of 10 days with dogs.

To enable myself to make the most of every moment with my first doggy companion I planned our meals for the weekend carefully.  Thai green curry (made in advance) on Friday night and a Greek BBQ (very low maintenance) on Saturday night.

Thai green curry is a dish I have been making for years now; it’s very easy.  Only recently though have I begun to make my own curry paste and I don’t think I’ll be going back to shop bought paste anytime soon.  I was always perfectly happy with the Asian food store green curry paste but the homemade stuff has a freshness, a bite that preprepared paste simply cannot have.

I ought to say now that I am a chilli wimp.  Some heat is good but my tolerance is fairly low.  The following paste is seriously potent stuff.  My head almost exploded when I foolishly dipped my finger into my homemade green curry paste and tasted it.  Wow!  It was hot!  Painfully so!  Several minutes were spent running around my house and garden with my tongue hanging out, trying desperately to recover.  It was almost as awful as the time I got a chilli seed lodged in my eye.  Don’t recommend that either.

A couple of hints before I give you the recipes:

  • Though the coconut milk goes a long way to cooling this dish down, add the paste a tablespoon at a time and taste until you find the perfect strength for you.
  • Buy chicken thighs with bones and skin so that once you remove the unwanted parts you can use them  and a few veggies to whip up a stock for the dish.
  • The curry paste freezes really well.  
  • It goes without saying that this sauce makes a mean prawn  or vegetable curry too.

Thai Green Curry Paste

3 stalks of lemongrass

Big thumb of ginger or galangal, peeled and chopped

6 green chillies, seeds removed

3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 onion, finely chopped

1 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp coriander

Handful of fresh coriander

Zest and juice of one lime

Generous grinding of pepper

1 tsp salt

2 tblspn olive oil

  • Whizz all the ingredients in a food processor until it forms a speckled green paste.

Thai Green Chicken Curry

(for 4)

Ground nut oil

8 chicken thighs, skin and bone removed, cut into large chunks

150g of mushrooms, halved

400ml tin of coconut milk

200ml chicken stock

6 kaffir lime leaves

2 tblspns Thai fish sauce

Handful of basil, chopped

Handful of coriander, chopped

150g green beans

  • Brown the chicken in the oil and remove with a slotted spoon.
  • Brown the mushrooms in same pan.
  • Add the chicken back into the pan and stir in two heaped tablespoons of the curry paste.  Stir to combine.
  • Add the coconut milk, stock, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce and herbs.  Stir well. 
  • Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 mins. 
  • Taste sauce regularly and add curry paste until the dish is perfectly hot.
  • Add the green beans and simmer for another 7 minutes.

Serve with lots of Thai jasmine rice (the easiest and nicest rice to make, I think).

* This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging event hosted by the fabulous Susan at Food Blogga.

* A big thank you to Dad for supplying me with pics of Tammy and Rosie! x

Santorini Inspired Souvlaki

Oia

Not my picture. Copied from – http://www.csd.uoc.gr/~chasap/photogallery/santorini/oia.JPG

Brianna of Oishii recently posted a salmon recipe inspired by a visit to Greece and it got me thinking of my own visits to the country.  

My first trip was four years ago.  I was living in Finland and had had a pretty hectic spring, not least because I was packing up my life there and moving back home to Scotland.  Ahead of me lay another crazy summer working 14 hour days in a residential EFL (English as a Foreign Language) school.  I desperately needed to switch off for a while.  On a whim, I popped into a travel agent to see what they had on offer and the very next day I was flying across Europe on my way to Santorini. 

It was a wonderfully revitalizing week.  Other than a walk up a volcano and a swim from a boat out to an island with hot springs, I spent the entire week reading in the sun (nine books in seven days) and sampling Greek food and drink, all the while trying to reassure every Greek I met that being a solitary traveller was not a reason to pity me.  Bless.  🙂  

My most vivid memory of the trip was sitting in a small restaurant in Oia.  The sun was setting, I had a stray cat on my lap, a craft carafe of wine on my table and a full belly from all the souvlaki I had  eaten.  It was a moment of perfect tranquility.  And then came the invasion. 

Oia, with its cliff top location and west facing view of the Aegean, is known for its stunning sunsets and the locals seem to come out to watch them like Brits turn on Coronation Street.  When an elderly lady motioned towards an empty seat at my table, I nodded.  Of course, the old dear could sit with me.  Five minutes and fifteen “old dears” later, I was surrounded.  Through the Greek gossiping (I could just tell there was some scandal being discussed), the thick clouds of cigarette smoke and the ample, apron adorned bodies of the women I just manage to see the sun sink below a cloudless scarlet horizon. The waiter felt so sorry that my peaceful sunset moment had been spoilt by the gaggle of greek grannies that he waived my bill! 

It wasn’t really spoilt at all though.  It just added to the moment. 

Inspired by these memories of Santorini, I’m having a Greek BBQ for my aunt and uncle this weekend: souvlaki, greek salad, pita bread and tzatziki.            

Greek Salad  

Cucumber, cut into chunks

4 large tomatoes, deseeded and cut into large chunks

2 handfuls of black olives

100g feta cheese, cubed

1 tblspn chopped parsley

1 tblspn chopped marjoram or oregano 

For dressing:

2 tblspn olive oil

2 tblspn white wine vinegar

Salt and pepper 

  • Add all cucumber, tomatoes, feta and olives to a large bowl and combine gently using hands.
  • Mix dressing well and add to bowl.  Mix gently.
  • Sprinkle with fresh herbs.  

 

Souvlaki 

4 pork loin steaks, cut into chunks

1 onion, cut into chunks

2 green peppers, cut into chunks 

For the marinade:

Juice, pulp and zest of one lemon

1 tbpsn dried oregano

1 tbspn brown sugar or honey

100ml olive oil

Generous grinding of salt and pepper 

  • Mix the marinade ingredients well. 
  • Add the pork, onion and peppers and stir well to coat.  Marinade for at least one hour (preferably overnight).
  • Thread pork, onion and pepper onto skewers and BBQ over a medium heat (ie fairly high up) for 20 mins, turning frequently.  

These are my entries for the Blog or Bust event at The Clumsy Cook.

Will post the tzatziki recipe another time.

Raspberry Respect

 

 

Felt a little blue arriving home last night.  A visit to the garden perked me up though.  Peeping out from between the fence boards were the first ripe raspberries of summer! 

 

 

Now, I have to admit these particular raspberries technically aren’t mine  (I do have raspberry bushes but the fruits will be ready late in the season).  These particular raspberries belong to branches which belong to a bush which belongs to my neighbour.  A rather grumpy neighbour too!  But the branches have grown into my garden so I feel justified in eating the fruit.  AND last year I watched hundreds of beautiful apples on their trees go to waste.  Scandalous. 

Scottish raspberries, I am told, are world renowned.  They are amazing – no denial here – but I’m not aware of having tasted raspberries from anywhere else.  The Nordic countries have nice berries.  Perhaps they could compete?  Do we really have the best raspberries?  Or are they just some of the best, I wonder.

Anyhoo, I digress.   15 raspberries were perfectly ripe last night.  I ate five straight away, still warm from the sun.  The remaining ten (plus I reckoned a few more might ripen in 24 hours) I wanted to save for the next day.  These raspberries were going to be respected!   Respected with home-made ricotta cheese.

I came across a recipe for making ricotta cheese (recipe here) on Lucy’s wonderful blog Nourish Me a few months ago.  Fresh ricotta in 25 minutes, Lucy said.  And I had all the ingredients in my fridge!  No muslin though….  Not one to be deterred I proceeded to cut up the curtains in the spare room.  Voila!  Muslin!   To this day, and much to my mother’s chagrin, the window dressing in that room is asymetrical.

The curtains came in handy again today.

Sweet, tart raspberries, creamy fresh ricotta and bitter dark chocolate shavings: my idea of a perfect dessert.   🙂

Pumpkin Gnocchi and Blogging Blushes

It’s the morning after a great wedding.  I’m aching and my toes and arms are covered in dark bruises: a sure sign of a night of ceilidh dancing!  If you have never been to a Scottish ceilidh before then add it to your list of things to do before you die.  Enormously fun.  🙂 

Question: do you fellow bloggers tell people you meet about your blog?  I don’t.  Ever.  And I’m not very sure why.   I bring this up as last night D and his sister outed me to several people (including the head chef of the renowned Three Chimneys) and my shyness about both blogging and my love of cooking took me by surprise.  I blushed.  I became vague.  I muttered. 

Why should I be so reticent about something that I enjoy so much? 

No time to reflect today as I’m taking D to Glasgow.  He’s flying out to New Zealand tomorrow; abandoning me for four weeks of serious snowboarding.   🙂

Before I hit the A9 I want to share the following recipe for pumpkin and parmesan gnocchi.  It’s my attempt to recreate a dish I ate in Finland several years ago, though that dish was smothered in a velvety blue cheese sauce.  Delicious but I found the sauce a little overpowering.  No point in making pumpkin gnocchi if you can’t taste the pumpkin. 

Having had several gnocchi failures in the past, I consulted La Rousse, Simon Hopkinson (who also makes pumpkin gnocchi), Marcella Hazan and Leith’s before embarking on this culinary adventure.  It paid off.  They were delicious.  🙂  Highly recommended. 

Pumpkin and Parmesan Gnocchi 

(makes approx 25)

500g floury potatoes, skin left on

500g pumpkin, deseeded and cut into big chunks

75g parmesan

100-150g plain flour 

50 g butter

Tspn Chilli flakes

2 cloves of garlic

Chopped parsley 

  • Preheat oven to 190oC. 
  • Place pumpkin in a roasting tin and cover with foil (this prevents the flesh from caramelising).
  • Prick potatoes a couple of times (to let the moisture out) and bake in the oven, with the pumpking, for 1 hour and 15 mins or until potatoes are entirely soft.
  •   Leave to cool.
  • Remove potato flesh from skins and mash really really well.  If you have a potato ricer, use this instead. 
  • Remove pumpkin flesh from skin.  Place in a clean tea towel and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
  • Whizz pumpkin and parmesan in a food processor until smooth. 
  • Combine pumpkin mixture with potato and dust with flour.  Knead.  Keep adding flour until mixture forms a pliable dough.
  • Roll into long 2cm wide sausages and cut into 3 cm pieces.  Press lightly with a fork (this enables the cooked gnocchi to hold sauce in the grooves).
  • Drop half a dozen or so of the gnocchi into rolling water and stir with a spoon to create a gnocchi whirlpool.  Boil gently until the gnocchi start to float.  Cook for 30 seconds more then remove from water and drain. 
  • Meanwhile melt butter until foaming and add chilli and garlic.  Fry gently for 30 seconds. 
  • Remove from heat and drizzle over warm gnocchi.
  • Sprinkle with parsley.

Tag

 

I have been tagged twice in the last few days. Once from Brianna at Oishii and once from Holler at Tinned Tomatoes. Never been personally tagged before so this is quite exciting!

It’s perfect timing too as I’m very busy with weddings (not mine!) and whatnot at the moment. Discovered that memes are ideal for hectic times or lazy days. Will complete Brianna’s first and leave Holler’s for a busy/lazy day in the future.

Seven Random Things About Me

1) I sleepwalk regularly.
It’s like I’m hallucinating. My eyes are always open and I am fully aware of my surroundings but there are other things there. For example – babies stuck behind radiators; red rabbits abseiling from the ceiling onto my face; dead mice/multicoloured octopuses/various other beasties in my bed; peacock feathers growing out of my pillow; half full pint glasses hovering above my head…
It’s pretty distressing when it’s actually happening but the entertainment value I and others get recalling what I’ve done MORE than makes up for a little hysteria! 

2) Other than Scotland, I have lived in Japan, Finland and Canada. Very happy to be back in Scotland again but know that those itchy-feet may strike again!
If they do I’d like to live in Sweden or Spain for a while. 

3) I have very long toes. My cousin used to call me finger-feet. 

4) I sneeze repeatedly when I’m full up. It’s a little embarrassing in restaurants. 

5) Though I rarely watch scheduled TV, I enjoy cooking with DVDs playing in the background. Favourite box-sets include The West Wing, BBC version of Pride & Prejudice, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Six Foot Under. 

6) Dogs make me incredibly happy.
Last month I made the decision not to get a dog and, though I know it was the right decision, I am still upset about it. As much as I want one I know it would not be fair to the dog. I’d be away all day and my work is 35 minutes away from my home. Not enough time to pop home. Sigh. 

7) I was a vegetarian for 10 years. A hangover and a bacon sandwich led to my downfall. 🙂
Still don’t eat a huge amount of meat but not because I think it’s unethical. I simply love vegetables! I am quite fussy about where my meat comes from though and buy local/free-range/organic/outdoor bred meats and MSC approved fish whenever possible.

 

 Not sure who has completed this already.. I tag Deb at Key West Wine and Garden, Lucy at Nourish Me, Anh at Food Lovers’ Journey, Patricia at Technicolour Kitchen and Nora B at Life’s Smörgåsbord.

Four Ways with Sorrel

My vegetable patch is not large.  In order to utilise this small space to its best advantage and be sure of a year round harvest very careful planning was required.  Diagrams had to be drawn, growing guides consulted and crop areas carefully marked out.  That I failed to even attempt any of these entirely explains why my cabbage is crowding my Brussel’s spouts, why my sweetpeas are taking up a third of the garden and why I grew more rocket than myself and everyone I’ve ever met could eat. 

Still, I always said this year of growing was pure experiment; a year to learn from all my disasters.  Next year will be the time for careful planning.

My sorrel is going the same way as the rocket.  I planted a row of this bitter herb purely because I had never tasted it before (it’s not available in the shops at all) and it has done exceptionally well.  Too well, in fact!  I don’t know what to do with it all!

Earlier in the week I asked for sorrel recipe ideas.  Deb suggested salad or soup, John suggested sauce and Rosa suggested a sandwich.  This week I have tried using sorrel in all four ways .  The sandwich I blogged about earlier in the week was a different one to Rosa’s suggestion but I’ll be trying out the sorrel and blue cheese idea next week. 

Why not this week?  Because I’m slightly sorrel-ed out!

Sorrel Soup

(Adapted from Margaret Costa’s recipe as found in Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book)

This is perhaps my favourite sorrel recipe.  The bright, sharp, lemony taste of the sorrel made this a very refreshing soup.  Highly recommended.

25 g butter

1/2 onion, finely chopped

Seasoning

Pinch of nutmeg

2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks

700ml vegetable or chicken stock

Big bunch of sorrel

Creme fraiche and chives to garnish

  • Melt the butter in a pan and add the onion.  Cook until soft. 
  • Add the potato, seasoning and nutmeg.  Stir and cook for one minute.
  • Add the stock.  Cover and simmer until potatoes are soft.
  • Blend until smooth.  Add the sorrel and blend again.  DO NOT COOK FURTHER – unless you want a greyish green soup.
  • Serve with a blob of creme fraiche and chopped chives.

http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1409/717465649_16aa6175df.jpg

Sorrel, Spinach and Olive Salad

I initially included artichoke hearts in this salad but, on tasting the dish, they seemed unnecessary.  The saltiness of the olives and anchovies work really well with the bitter sorrel.

Handful of sorrel leaves

Handful of spinach leaves

Handful of olives stuffed with anchovies

2 tblspns of pumpkin seeds

For the dressing:

1/4 lemon

1 tblspn olive oil

Black pepper

  • Mix dressing ingredients well.
  • Add to sorrel, spinach and olives.  Mix gently.
  • Sprinkle with pumpkin seeds.

 

Sorrel Sauce

I tried several versions of this sauce and the best was the simplest and the unhealthiest.  Figures.

Served this with grilled cod, roasted asparagus and roasted new potatoes.

100 ml creme fraiche or whipping creme

Tblspn sorrel

Tblspn parsley

Black pepper

  • Heat the creme in a pan. 
  • When almost boiling remove from heat and add herbs and black pepper.
  • Serve immediately.

So where’s the picture for the last recipe?  Well, my camera has just died. Awful.   Hurray!  My camera has resurrected itself.  Not convinced it will last long though.    Does anyone have any camera recommendations?  Digital camera advice, I should add.

Vegetable Lasagne & Compliments

 

All teachers know one of the most powerful ways to keep pupils motivated in class is to provide encouraging, relevant and timely feedback. Without this the kids have no idea how well they are doing and loose their focus entirely. Plus, everyone likes a compliment. 🙂 In this respect I am no different from my pupils.

The other night I cooked dinner for D and a couple of friends. It was a summery vegetarian lasagne that I’d made many times before and as I dished up the portions I was feeling rather proud: the vegetables looked colourful and juicy; the cheesy sauce oozed richly between the sheets of spinach pasta and the top had crisped up perfectly. Everyone loves the crispy bits!

Chatting happily with friends over a meal is one of the nicest places to be and this evening was no different. Spirits were high – we’d had a fun day in the Aviemore area and were heading out that evening again – and everyone was very animated. Then suddenly, as we were halfway through the meal, I realised that no-one had mentioned the food at all and I immediately felt quite dejected.

Was it not good? Was it bland? Did I make an error cooking vegetarian food for a group of meat eaters? Is it disgusting? Are they choking it down?!

By the time the meal had finished and we were clearing the dishes away I was seriously questioning my own palate! D saved the day. Having noticed I was furrowing my brow as I stacked the dishes beside the sink he asked what was wrong. When I told him he laughed heartily and simply stuck his empty plate in my face. Followed by another empty plate. Another. And another. He then walked out of the room chuckling, leaving me alone to remember that:

a) Compliments to the chef don’t have to be verbal
&
b) I should chill out. 🙂

One of the great things about this dish is that it can be prepared a couple of days in advance and then just popped in the oven. I tend to make it for guests when I know I’m going to be short on time.

Vegetable Lasagne

1 large aubergine, diced
2 red peppers, cut into chunks
2 large courgettes or 4 small, sliced thickly
1 large red onion, cut into chunks
Whole bulb of garlic, separated into cloves
500g cherry tomatoes
1 tblspn dried oregano
Seasoning
Olive oil
8 sheets of spinach lasagne, cooked according to packet
1 ½ tblspn butter
1 ½ tblspn plain flour
750ml milk
150g grated mozzarella
Generous grating of parmesan

  • Place the aubergine in a colander and salt. Leave for 30 mins then squeeze out the excess moisture in a clean tea towel.
  • Put the aubergine, pepper, courgette, onion and garlic in large roasting tray (or 2). Season well, sprinkle over the oregano, drizzle with olive oil and mix with your hands.
  • Place in a 180oC pre-heated oven for 25 mins.
  • Remove tray from oven and add the cherry tomatoes. Mix well and place back in oven for 25 mins. Allow to cool slightly.
  • Cook sheets of pasta according to instructions and drain.

For the béchamel sauce:

  • Heat the milk in a large pan.
  • In a separate pan, create a rue by melting the butter in a pan and adding the flour. Mix well and cook for two mins.
  • Ladle by ladle add the milk to the rue and stir well to create a thick sauce. Once all the milk has been added cook gently for 10 more mins stirring frequently.
  • Add the grated mozzarella and stir well. Remove from heat and season to taste.

 To assemble:

  • Add a layer of vegetable to a large oven proof dish (4 small separate dishes), pour over a little béchamel sauce and place 4 lasagne sheets over the top. Repeat.
  • Pour the remaining sauce over the top and sprinkle generously with grated parmesan cheese.
  • Bake in a preheated oven (180oC) for 30-45 mins until bubbling and crispy.

Serve with a green salad and garlic bread to mop up the juices.

Improving a Goat’s Cheese Sandwich

In the same way that I ask my pupils to assess and improve a piece of writing in order understand good practice, in restaurants I often assess and mentally improve whatever dish I have been served.  It’s a very informative (though, perhaps, quite annoying) habit.   

Take yesterday for example.  On the way back from our camping trip D & I had lunch in Ullapool.  The Ceilidh Place is a café/restaurant/art gallery/music venue tucked away behind the village harbour.  It appears to be a converted croft but you’d never guess that from the light interior.  With lots of glass, wood and greenery and gentle jazz in the background, it’s a superb place for lunch.  The menu is interesting; not your typical Scottish fare.  I’ve eaten here many times before and have always been impressed by their food.  Yesterday was no exception.   

Despite having announced in the car that he was having a light, healthy lunch, D chose the French toast with bacon and maple syrup.  Yum. 

   

I chose the goat’s cheese and roasted vegetable open sandwich with a balsamic reduction.  It was impressively presented and very tasty indeed. 

  

Even though I enjoyed it very much, as I dug in I was mentally changing the sandwich.

Get rid of the butter for starters.  Softer cheese, perhaps.  Love the balsamic reduction.  Rye bread!  I’d like bitter or strong salad leaves instead of the pretty but bland… what is that leaf called?  And courgettes are in season.  I want some courgettes. 

The result was today’s lunch.  It might not have been better than yesterday’s lunch but it was more to my taste.  Apologies for the poor picture – you can’t even see the sorrel – but I couldn’t wait to eat it. 

  Goat’s Cheese, Sorrel and Courgette Sandwich

(for 1) 

Large slice or rye bread

Soft goat’s cheese

Handful of sorrel

Handful of flat leaf parsley

1 small courgette, sliced thinly length ways

50ml balsamic vinegar 

For the courgettes:

  • Rub slices with a little olive oil and seasoning.  Grill over a medium-high heat for 3 mins on each side.  Cool.

 For the balsamic reduction:

  • In a small pan gently simmer the vinegar until reduced by half.  No more than this!  The liquid will thicken as it cools. 

 Putting it together:

  • Spread the cheese on the rye bread. 

  • Top with sorrel, parsley and courgette strips. 

  • Drizzle with balsamic reduction.

The sorrel is from my garden.  Grew it specifically because you can’t buy it in the shops here and I’d never tasted it before.  It’s delicious – very bitter, almost lemony.  Only problem is I have a huge amount of it.  Any ideas as to how else to use it would be much appreciated!