Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Fresh Basil Pesto

One of my greatest pleasures during the summer months is having access to copious amounts of fresh garden basil. That said, come winter, it`s always so disappointing to have to go and buy those ridiculously overpriced packages of herbs at the grocery store. They really are a taste of those smidgens of summer though and are a real treat for making delicious homemade pesto during that long cold stretch from October-May. I made up this yummy batch of basil pesto and kept some left over basil leaves for adding to our salads and sandwiches this week. So good.

A couple of really important pesto notes:
1. Don't heat it! Rule number one is don't heat the pesto. Let the pesto room to warm temperature and add to hot pasta or top vegetables.
2. Some people prefer to mix half parsley and half basil to tone-down the strong basil flavor. I personally really dig that bail-goodness so I always go for 100% fresh basil.
3. Don't skimp on the cheese. Buy good quality Parmigiano Regiano. The results will be worth the extra dollar for the cheese.
4. You may think it’s nice to toast the pine nuts until they’re coloured, to give them a nutty taste, but, according to Jamie, the really good, truly Italian pestos just have them very lightly toasted, to give a creaminess rather than a nuttiness.

Bon appétit!

1 clove of garlic, chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 good handfuls of fresh basil, leaves picked and chopped
a handful of pine nuts, very lightly toasted
a good handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
extra virgin olive oil
optional: a small squeeze of lemon juice

Pound the garlic with a little pinch of salt and the basil leaves in a pestle and mortar, or pulse in a food processor. Depending on how much of a garlicky taste you like, go for either 1/2 a clove or a whole one. You can add more later if need be. Add the pine nuts to the mixture and pound again. Turn out into a bowl and add half the Parmesan. Stir gently and add olive oil – you need just enough to bind the sauce and get it to an oozy consistency.

Season to taste, then add most of the remaining cheese. Pour in some more oil and taste again. Keep adding a bit more cheese or oil until you are happy with the taste and consistency. You may like to add a squeeze of lemon juice at the end to give it a little twang, but it’s not essential. Try it with and without and see which you prefer.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Lemon-Thyme Green Beans

As a nice winter pick-me-up surprise, my mum dropped off a little bundle of summer greens that she`d kept frozen from her beautiful vegetable garden. Included were some "fresh", crunchy french green beans. We made them up with some fresh thyme and freshly squeezed lemon juice. So delicious - such a nice, easy side dish. Be careful not to go overboard on the thyme - just use a sprinkle ... you can easily taint your beans by going 'over thyme'. Bon appétit!

Coarse salt and ground pepper
Big pile of green beans, ends trimmed
Freshly squeezed lemon juice + zest from 1 lemon (? about 3 tbs. maybe?)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1. In a large skillet with a tight-fitting lid, bring about 1/2 inch water to a boil; salt generously.

2. Add green beans; reduce to a simmer, and cover skillet. Steam beans, tossing occasionally, until crisp-tender, 5-6 minutes.

3. Drain off the water and then add your butter to pan-fry the beans for a minute or two. Throw in your zest/thyme and season with salt and pepper, and toss to melt butter. At the last second, squeeze in your lemon juice and remove from heat. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Cinnamon Raisin French Toast

After this last round of back surgery, my mummy came up to look after me for a few days. She brought along a special treat of freshly-baked cinnamon raisin bread (yummmmm...). This morning we decided to use it for our weekly Giles Saturday morning brunch meal. I heart Saturday mornings. Ok, so who doesn't?  Saturday mornings at Chez Giles' always consist of a nice sleep in, morning snuggles, special breakfast and then coffee and tea on the couch. You can use any kind of bread for making french toast, but I have to admit that using homemade bread (especially your mum's homemade cinnamon raisin bread!) will definite elevate it to a cut above the rest. Bon appétit!

8 slices cinnamon raisin bread
1 cup milk/cream mixture (I like 3:1 ratio milk to cream)
1 large egg
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt

1. Mix milk/cream, egg, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt. Dip each piece of bread into the batter, flipping after 30 seconds to fully saturate bread.
2. On a griddle or a hot skillet, melt 1 tbsp of butter and place dipped bread on hot surface. Cook each side until crispy and beginning to brown (approximately 2-3 minutes per side ... watch carefully so it doesn`t burn!). Serve up with fresh maple syrup!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Bottom of the Bottle Dijon Dressing

I love this idea. Whenever you`re left with just a teeny, tiny, scrapethebottomofthejar bit of mustard, don't throw it out. Instead, toss in a few ingredients and shake a tangy Dijon vinaigrette right in the container. Bon appétit!

Up to you really: I usually go with 1 crushed garlic clove, some chopped fresh herbs (whatever I have on hand: tarragon, shallot, thyme, basil are all good), some balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, a touch of sugar, freshly squeezed lemon juice

Mix all of your ingredients directly in the bottle, close the lid and give it all a good shake. Add olive oil (2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar ... I personally like less oil and more vinegar so go with what you like); shake again to emulsify the dressing. Play around with the flavours - there`s no real `recipe` here really. Drizzle over your favorite salad and enjoy. With a tightly sealed lid, the dressing will keep in the refrigerator for up to one week.