Friday, 26 February 2010

Yet ANOTHER Risotto!!

This past week has been totally overwhelming! So so so many last minute things to do, totally terrible weather, and treats treats and more treats! Seriously...if I don't fit into my dress it is all down to the coffees, cakes, potato chips and lovely food I have been treated to over the two weeks my mum has been here (I love you mummy!)

Not only have I been treated to all those BOUGHT goodies...but David and I have also been devouring quite a few wonderful home cooked meals a la mummy, rightly deserved with the big day coming up don't you think?? 

It was my turn in the kitchen last night...after a long and exciting day visiting the gorgeous city of Norwich...

We'd bought a whole heap of grape tomatoes at the market earlier in the week so I thought I would try my hand at a Jamie Oliver recipe I've been meaning to try...something that I was sure I could manage after a day of travelling...but something new to all of us. 

I feel like I have been making risotto constantly over the last couple of weeks...but seriously, it is so so so good and so so so easy! I'd passed over Jamie Oliver's recipe for TOMATO RISOTTO for a while, I just wasn't sure about a risotto relying purely on tomatoes...but the other night when mum treated us to a fantastic Italian meal out she ordered a risotto that ended up having chopped tomatoes running through it!! Inspired by her restaurant risotto and remembering Jamie's recipe I thought...what the heck! Let's just go for it!

Having halved the sweet little grape tomatoes and marinated them in a splash of balsamic vinegar (Jamie calls for red wine vinegar....not a staple in my pantry) and oil I started second guessing my choice.  I was not too sure about the addition of balsamic vinegar (or any vinegar) into a soft and creamy risotto...but I plowed on!  You add about 2/3rds of the tomatoes when adding the stock, so they cook down quite a bit over the AGES this specific risotto seemed to take to cook.  At the end, the rest of the tomatoes and their marinating juices are added...along with a huge handful of parmesan...and (the selling point) RICOTTA cheese for added creaminess!!!  In Jamie's recipe he calls for crumbly ricotta, which you bake in the oven with some chili flakes...but I just couldn't find that in little old the end I was actually more happy to "settle" for smooth ricotta and had added chili flakes when sweating the onions.  Writing all this down makes me realise that I actually adapted this recipe quite a bit...making it my own!

And it is...


Monday, 22 February 2010

WEDDING SPOTLIGHT: Tea Party in London with my Hens

This weekend a handful of my closest UK friends, mummy and I celebrated my "last days of freedom" with a lingering Afternoon Tea in the restaurant at Tate Britain on the banks of the River Thames. 


(the third sandwich was gobbled up before a picture could be taken!)

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Fishy Friday

On Friday afternoons the "gourmet" market comes to Chelmsford high street.  By Paris standards, or even London, it isn't really that gourmet...but there is a wonderful little fish stall that has a pretty good selection of freshly caught fish and seafood (oh and jellied eels if that is your thing). 

I like to buy a bit of fish on Fridays for a nice end of the week treat so yesterday on our errands mummy and I picked up a gigantic side of Haddock for supper.  When the fish guy was weighing seemed like just enoguh for three people, but when I got it home...and unwrapped it...holy moly!!!  It was a gigantic piece of fish! I managed (with mummy's help) to cut off two portions to freeze...and still had plenty left over for last night's supper!

When David and I were back in Canada in the fall my friend Emily and her husband Ryan gave us the beautiful Bride & Groom cookbook from Williams-Sonoma.  This cookbook is seriously beautiful, it has wonderful recipes for entertaining, and amazing pictures and, well, I haven't had a chance to use it last night I tried a tasty recipe for French Style Lentils with Grilled Salmon....substituting the Salmon for Haddock of course (and grilled under the broiler in the oven). 

The recipe calls for Puy Lentils, which are produced in France and are supposed to keep their lense-like shape much better than other lentils when cooked.  I couldn't find Puy Lentils on my outing yesterday, so I settled for brown lentils, which held their shape and tasted wonderful! The lentils are boiled in water with a bit of dried thyme, half way through you add some chppped carrot, celery and yellow onion (chopped tiny and uniform) that have been sauteed for a bit in butter, then...when the water has cooked down you add some vinegar and olive oil....So so tasty!! 

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Thames Barrier excursion adventure with Mum!

Today I took my mummy to see the Thames Barrier in south east London.  It is something that she has always wanted to see but has never had the opportunity or time to get out to zone 4.  The barrier is one of the largest moveable flood barriers in the world! It is absolutely incredible!!!!


Tuesday, 16 February 2010

A treat for my mum!

On Sunday I saw this amazing recipe   for Quinoa Pudding posted on the gorgeous blog Cannelle et Vanille and I just knew I HAD to make it to celebrate my mum's arrival on Tuesday.  My mum loves quinoa...I've never actually had it, but I am totally up for trying new grains and...hey...anything cooked in 3 cups of whole milk and 1 cup of cream HAS to be good...right?


If you can get your hands on quinoa and are brave enough to enjoy all that cream you HAVE to try it! If you don't feel ready to try this lovely, nutty and "healthy" grain, there is an equally as moorish recipe for Arroz con Leche (rice pudding) on this incredibly beautiful blog.  

Meatless Monday...Butternut Squash Risotto REVISITED

Months ago, before David and I travelled to Canada, I challenged myself to use up all the "stuff" in my cupboards and fridge....that was when my budget was tight and when we needed to get rid of everything before our trip...anyway, for my first meal I made a butternut squash risotto...and last night I revisited it...with a little twist.


The handful of times I have made butternut squash risotto I have just roasted the squash in cubes and chucked it in at the end...last night I decided to mash up about 2/3rds of the squash to mix in the rice during the last few minutes of cooking.  It really made a difference, made it a bit more special for us :)

Monday, 15 February 2010

Wool from Jamie Oliver's FIFTEEN courtesy of mummy!

My mum sent me a package of this gorgeous 100% wool promoted through Jamie Oliver's Chain of Restaurants FIFTEEN.  Three lovely balls of wool, with cute wooden needles and a series of patterns developed specifically for this wool. 



My mum arrives in London tomorrow morning, and I can't wait to see her at arrivals! :)

Sunday, 14 February 2010

100% Scrummy...A valentine's meal for two

The last time that David and I were in the same city and managed to celebrate Valentine's Day was four years ago! We bought some goldfish for our tank and had McDonalds for romantic! This year, in our house together...with our wedding on the horizon and the cash flow feeling the squeeze we agreed to do nothing elaborate....nothing over the top....nothing too gushy...oh and to celebrate on Saturday instead!!

We had a wonderful lazy day, went for a stroll, bought some food for dinner, watched some soccer, played the game of Life (he won by $12,000...practically nothing...but he always wins!) and then watched Cool Runnings in honour of the Winter Olympics...oh and, eventually, enjoyed a wonderful SCRUMMY and romantic dinner. 

Earlier in the week I had decided that I would make Pasta al Salmone Affumicato, or pasta with smoked salmon and a cream sauce, which is apparently a standard Valentine's Day dish in Italy. This dish is such a wonderful, yet easy treat...and made especially gushy when the pasta shape used is....heart shaped!

I am a sucker for pasta shapes, and...looking at these, can you blame me? Surprisingly, and unlike most novelty shaped pasta I have bought (leaning towers of piza, high heeled shoes, bob the builder) they held their shape really well and still resembled hearts when cooked!

The sauce was really easy and something that I urge anyone to try if, like me, you love smoked salmon and cream! I have made variations of this dish in the past, sort of guessing proportions and haphazardly throwing the ingredients into the pan...but yesterday I took the time to have a quick look on-line and ended up using this recipe for the correct proportions.  I added some grated parmesan cheese to thicken the sauce slightly and let is bubble away longer than suggested...I think that the sauce needs to be nice and thick, besides you can always add some cooking water from the pasta if gets too thick.  The main point is that the sauce takes pretty much the same time to cook as the pasta does! Oh and I reserve a bit of the salmon to sprinkle overtop!

To go with this gorgeous, creamy, velvety and did I meantion EASY pasta I wanted to try something new as a starter.  I don't usually serve different courses but I thought, this being Valentine's Day and all...I would!! We agreed that a salad would be the best option...light and a good compliment to the creamy pasta that we were both looking forward to. 

Salad is fine as a side dish, but it really needs to be something special to be served in its own right.  In order to jazz up the baby leaves I bought I thought I would try my hand at making some candied walnuts to team with crumbled danish blue cheese (softer than stilton but not as creamy as gorgonzola) and thiny sliced Braeburn Apple (crunchy and sweet) with a simple oil and balsamic vinegar dressing. 

I've never candied walnuts before and used this recipe from Our Best Bites Blog. It is really easy, but requires patience and concentration!! If you have never candied nuts before this is an easy to follow recipe with great results!! 

Minimal preparation time for the whole meal, minimal cooking time...lots of time to eat and enjoy hanging out with My Valentine!

Friday, 12 February 2010

Root Vegetable Lancashire Hot Pot with Cheese

Only one thing to do hanging around the house feeling sick and sorry for myself (a bit bluesy today). 



Tonight for dinner I attempted, for the first time, a vegetarian Lancashire hotpot...a stew topped with sliced potatoes and broiled...I adapted a version of butternut and swede stew with dumplings that I had seen in a magazine during the week by adding more vegetables and a itty bitty bit of red wine..oh and foregoing the dumplings by creating a Lancashire hot pot instead. 

The finished product was tasty.  Next time I will omitt the parsnip though. I am not a fan, it just tastes a bit ICKY to me...personal opinion...but I added them into my stew to TRY them again...ewwww no no no no...sorry, I just couldn't do it.  I ate ONE...and left the rest on the side of my plate. 

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Courgette, Cremini Mushroom and Pea Risotto with goats cheese

Temporary aid for my blocked up sinuses tonight with a yummy dinner of creamy, smooth and a little bit salty filling bowl of risotto.  Just what my tummy and nose needed!

I've posted before about how personal I think a risotto is...taste, texture, everything is up to you! This risotto was a lovely combination of soft mushrooms and courgettes juxtaposed with the bite of fresh peas and the creamy saltyness of the hard goats cheese crumbled overtop. 

We've eaten pretty poorly this week (pizza monday and wednesday with salmon in between!) with all the commotion around the house so I hope that this meal will be a return to our usual routine!

Vietnamese inspired cold rolls

One of my most favourite pick-me-ups is a big hot steamy bowl of Vietnamese Pho soup.  I've not been to Vietnam so I can't honestly say with certainty that I have had authenic pho before...but my first expereinces were in a small fluorescent lit restaurant in the east end of Toronto, surrounded by numerous other vietnamese restaurants, all promoting Pho.  Since then I actively search out Pho wherever I go...One of my most favourite restaurants in London, aptly named PHO, is close to Oxford Circus and was the perfect location to revive ourselves after a long walk and windowshopping yesterday.

Today I took some inspiration from our spring rolls and big bowls of hot and steamy soup and made some crunchy satisfying fresh rolls filled with corriander, cucumber, carrot, red onion, red pepper and lettuce wrapped in left over rice wrappers (which I have since found for sale in the local market)...and served cold!

The dip is a new sweet chili dipping sauce from Marks and Spencers Simply Food with added mango! yum!

WEDDING SPOTLIGHT...The Perfect Shoes!

This week has been non-stop and it is all catching up on me...I woke up this morning with a full-on sinus cold! It HAS to be down to a combination of house guests, travelling into London twice in 3 days, little sleep and getting excited for Lee's visit...oh and the wedding of course!!

Yesterday Lee and I travelled into London to meet up with her mum who's come over from Canada for 4 days just to see her!! (awwwww)...Other than the most important task of meeting up with Lee's mama the numero uno mission on my list was trying my hardest to find the most perfect shoes for the wedding. 

In preparation I have been looking at about a billion internet sites of the shoe stores in the area we were going to be hanging out in London...

Bridal shoes must be one of the hardest purchases of this whole process.  Lee will tell you how many times I have changed my mind over the last couple of months (buying the shoes together has always been on the cards) from all white bridal heels, to bright colourful wedges to....well anything really! She went into the search yesterday with an open mind...we both did...

And then? The first shoes I tried on? I LOVED!!!

Do not frett...this girl isn't wearing a traditional white wedding dress...but you will just have to wait to see that! xo

Monday, 8 February 2010

Lazy Sunday Breakfast

When David and I were at university in Portsmouth we used to treat ourselves to a greasy fry-up Sunday mornings at the local Wetherspoons pub...literally 25 meters down the street.  Once we moved away from the centre of town it became too far to walk for what was, essentially, a lazy Sunday breakfast.  Now that we live together we are even lazier on a Sunday and rarely a) treat ourselves to breakfast (even the cafes are closed on Sundays in our little town) and b) can't be bothered to go through the song and dance of a proper Full English Breakfast. 

This week was different...I had spontaneously picked up a package of Linda McCartney's Vegetarian Sausages (on sale....dramatically on sale) and thought that I would pull up my socks and treat David (and me) to a proper Lazy Sunday Full English Breakfast!

I've had better sausages.  I was not that impressed, and have had much better vegetarian sausages in restaurants.  In fact, when we DO make the effort to have breakfast out, I often will order the vegetarian breakfast...more veggies and often an extra egg for the same price!

I have not been turned off the idea of buying veggie sausages, infact having now tasted the "premium" veggie sausage I am keen to try other supermarket varieties...I'll let you know!

Friday, 5 February 2010


I got the template for these awesome alphabet letters from Martha Stewart's weddings website and have used them to make our custom labels for the Loot Bags for our wedding! They are so pretty and personal, and frankly are a wonderful resource to use for any party/gift!

I've printed them on the same colour paper from our invitations and plain good quality white paper and then used a scalloped hole punch to cut them out! I absolutely LOVE the finished product! 

WEDDING SPOTLIGHT...Forget the Favours! Bring on the LOOT BAGS!

Wedding favours and I don't really get along.  I appreciate the imortant gesture of giving your guests a little token to thank them for sharing your special day, a token that might also hold a fond memory of you as a couple or of the day as a memory or whatever.  You know what though? Wedding favours are flipping expensive!

When we sat down and looked at our budget and had a rough idea of what the catering and venue was going to cost and then started to guesstimate other costs for flowers, clothing, rings, decorations etc.  The money seemed to be slipping away faster than we could actually calculate the costs.  One of the things close to the top of my list was wedding favours and I wanted to make sure that they were a) thoughtful and b) something that would be appreciated (having been to a few weddings in my time coming home with cheap plastic picture frames or really stinky candles).  Easier said than done!! Working on a pretty minimalist budget with a modest 60 guests I thought that we might be able to get something really classy...Hells no! at 5.00 a pop?? i can't even do that math for that....

Now I don't want you to think that I am a cheapo, but c'mon! Everybody has a drawer (or a cupboard) filled with wedding favours...they are rarely really used and often not really even liked, although I have been to some weddings where the favours were probably more expensive than my gift to the bride and groom...and then there was the huge Greek wedding I went to where the gift was a gorgeous frosted picture frame, which I accidently smashed to bits in the parking lot on the way home after one too many sambuccas...

In hind-sight I guess my aversion to wedding favours probably all stems from my own self-inflicted expereinces...but those events partnered with our inability to find anything remotely representative of us as a couple, or classy enough to gift to our family and friends...David and I are for-going the ominous title of WEDDING FAVOUR and opting, instead, to present our guests with LOOT BAGS (or party bags as they are called here)!!

In our LOOT BAGS we are including: A packet of Forget-me-Not seeds personalised with our names and wedding date (75 packs for 50.00), 2 individually wrapped Green & Blacks Organic Chocolate squares that I bought over Christmas when the supermarkets have all the party sized boxes of chocolates (3 boxes of 45 for 3.50 each), A Chinese Fortune Stick from my fave new online shop Cox&Cox (tin of 75 for 10.00), A sugar heart iced cookie (courtesy of mummy and me!), and a penny for luck! All wrapped in a cellophane bag (80 for 11.50) with a homemade lable and special heart to heart ribbon (from Cox&Cox 14.00)!! 

Totalling about 1.50 per guest!  In reality, the seed package is the "favour" and the rest just bulks out the package a bit...

Baking Ban Broken Again!

I say the ban was broken, but actually I did lay the rules out very clearly...I cannot possibly show up to a BIRTHDAY party with no baked goods! A) my friends have come to expect something homemade and calorific and B) my mother taught me never to show up at a party empty-handed. 

Earlier this week I posted a couple of pictures of the French-style Bath Mitt I knitted for my UK bestfriend Clare's birthday and Moogie over at Moggie & Pap suggested that I bake some brownies to complete the pampering gift.  I toyed with the idea for a bit and ho-ed and hum-ed over recipes...and then I had a total brain wave! GUINEA PIG TIME! I have been waiting for an occasion to try out Martha Stewart's Sugar Cookie Recipe in preparation for my mother's arrival and our team baking cookies for the wedding loot bags.

DING DING DING!! Clare's birthday is the perfect time to hold an undercover taste test and recipe trial!!!
The recipe from Martha's website makes approx. 3 dozen cookies! HOLY COOKIES BATMAN! way way way too many for this bride-to-be (4 weeks...this is LITERALLY crunch time) so I looked through the recipe and it appeared to be easily halved. 

These cookies are pretty labour intensive...or at least time intensive...First you have to pray that the butter you left out on the counter over night actually softened (it didn't)...then you have to come up with a cleaver way of softening the butter sans microwave (don't put it too close to the element on the stove though, cause the foil paper can actually singe...) THEN, once the butter is actually soft you can get on with the making of the dough, which must rest a minimum of 2 hours in the fridge (A PRO HERE IS THAT IT WILL KEEP IN THE FRIDGE FOR A WEEK!) Once the dough has rested you roll out the dough and cut out your shapes and then the shapes must chill again for 15 mins!! Then you bake them....then they have to cool on the bakingsheet before they can be transfered to the wire rack....PHEW!

The verdict?? You have to watch these cookies like a pro...left to their own devices they will brown very quickly and then....once cooled....they are REALLY hard.  However, the ones that I nursed through the baking process turned out quite well.  David and I "taste tested" quite a few of the overly brown cookies, and shared ONE of the good ones...which was soft and crispy at the same time...a good start I think!

Later on, infront of the TV I iced the cookies...I am not very good at decorating (Clare, whose birthday it is, is really good) but I am getting more confident. Actually...that's not true, I am happy having a go at cakes, but cookies are HARD! If they are not perfectly level, or if the table is slightly wonky, the icing is bound to drip and drool, and well...that annoys me.  Anyway, I iced the blue ones first, and then thought I would be smart and add a little red dye to make purple....but ended up with the burgundy colour instead.  At first I was really disappointed, but then I realised....HEY! It is the same colour as our wedding invites! Perfect for our loot bag cookies!

The true test is tonight at Clare's birthday dinner...I'll let you know!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Tuesday's adventure with Tofu!

Last week I bought some tofu in anticipation of making a Vietnamese recipe from the World Vegetarian Classics book, which really needs to be back in the library soon....but, well, I changed my mind about the tofu noodle dish and yesterday looking through the fridge I saw the box sitting there on the shelf begging to be used...handy actually because I was dieing to try another recipe as a test run for when Lee comes to visit next week. NEXT WEEK!

I really really really really like tofu.  I don't LOVE it when it is cold, but if it is warm (or deep fried) I will finish every last bit! I didn't know if David would like it or not, but thankfully he is pretty adventurous!!

In preparation for Lee's visit (we've planned the menu already!) I stocked up on a few Asian ingredients while I was in London over the weekend meaning that I was totally ready to rock the tofu yesterday!! Having lived in Toronto and London I sometimes find it annoying that there isn't more of a variety of international ingredients at my supermarket in Chelmsford.  They are getting better...recently I have spied a Thai section of imported goods (not just UK brand name stuff) and also saw tinned bamboo shoots and water chestnuts yesterday in the "Indian and Chinese" section...there is hope, and I know that I can always request things...I might build up the courage!

In total this recipe took about 1 hour to complete (including time for marinating) and, although a bit fiddly, it was worth the organisation/preparation. 

First the tofu is marinaded in hoisin sauce for 30 mins, then it is wrapped in softened rice paper wrappers with a corriander leaf and left to self-seal in the fridge for about 15 mins.  All that can be done in advance (which is what I did) and then taken out and deep fried minutes before serving.

These Crackling Rice-paper Parcels with Hoisin Tofu were surprisingly amazing! I was actually really happy with myself.  I rarely deep fry anything, and haven't used rice-paper wrappers before but the results were really nice.  Some of the wrappers got a bit too brown, and one (in the middle) sort of split...but the taste and texture was really nice. 

Tuesday, 2 February 2010


Home Alone tonight
I deserve a treat!

And so do you! xo

Knitted Bath Mitt

How cute is this French-style knitted cotton bath mitt?

I've knit it for my friend Clare's birthday giftie.  She's a girl who likes to pamper, and I thought that this soft cotton bath mitt would be a perfect handmade gift! Going to pop out tomorrow for a some nice soaps to complete the package!

Meatless Monday Mushroom Spinach and Feta Pasta Bake

I love me a ooey gooey steaming pasta casserole.  One of the first meals David ever cooked for me was a tuna pasta casserole with crushed up potato chips on top and I thought "wow this is the man for me!"

Now pasta bakes (as they call them here) have become an easy and tasty fall-back meal.  In this version I just used up the end bits of the vegetables lurking in the fridge..a quarter of a leek, a couple of handfuls of spinach, 4 or 5 sad looking mushrooms, and a clove of garlic all sauteed until soft, mixed with a quarter of a block of crumbled feta cheese along with a jar of store bought tomato and basil pasta sauce, some cooked farfalle and topped with grated white cheddar cheese (no potato chips) and baked in the oven till golden and crispy (in reality as long as I can cope with it baking....being starving and all!)

Monday, 1 February 2010

Perfect comforting lunch to help recover from a tough weekend x

What a whirlwind weekend!! First of all...the brownies were a HUGE hit!Soft and creamy and a perfect mix of salty and sweet...and surprisingly yummy with a bottle or two of white wine! Just what the doctor ordered! I can't claim that they healed a broken heart, but they definetly helped make the weekend happier!

It was hard to wake up this morning, I am totally emotionally drained.  After a bit of a lounge on the couch I motivated myself to get up and go out and wander to the grocery store to stock up for the week (poor david has to buy his lunch today cause there was NOTHING in the fridge...other than half a red cabbage and a leek)...

As I was out I was trying to think of something to make for lunch that would be comforting and something special...something that I might normally make during the weekend to share...something that might take a little bit of time but that would provide some much needed healing. 

I settled on pasta e ceci...similar to pasta e fagoli...a wonderful rich, tender and filling Italian pasta and bean thick soup.  I say it is a thick soup because the consistency is really up to you, I like it pretty thick, more like a pasta dish than a soup, but a friend of mine's father from southern Italy used to make it for me as a soup.

The perfect remedy for my head, heart and body after a very emotional weekend.  I used Jamie Oliver's Pasta e Ceci recipe from his book Jamie's Italy.  To be honest, I haven't tried many recipes in this cookbook, but true to Jamie-form it was simple and delicious.