Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Cookies, Cakes and Gingerbread Houses...

Happy Christmas to all or should I say Happy Baking Season! 

My homemade Peppermint bark to rival Williams Sonoma

I am from a long line of 'fill the biscuit tin, in case someone pops in' women. Traditionally we also delivered Christmas biscuits (cookies) to a few lucky folks at Christmas time. So when the calendar hits December, I start big time planning. Who am I kidding, it happens long before December.

So you'll understand, we've been busy in this house over the last few weeks. Like many others, I love to give cookies at Christmas. The giving list gets longer every year; and despite having some tried and true Christmas cookie recipes I always feel compelled to try out a few new ones.

This year I am linking the recipes I have used alongside a few snaps of the final products. This is as much for me next year as it is for any readers so apologies for poorer grammar than usual. I'm in a rush to get back to the kitchen action.

Here goes:

My particular favored new recipe is for Peppermint Bark. I was determined not to pay $25 a box this year at Williams Sonoma, so found a recipe for me to make my own. Success!!

I have a ginger obsession at this time of year so one of the many recipes I use is the following Ginger Chocolate Chip Blondies. They are so good...

Continuing on the theme and desperately trying to harness my control frickery, my girls and I got up to gingerbread men and house making, using the following healthier recipe from Heidi at 101 cookbooks. These are wholewheat gingerbread men!

This is the girls playing with the scraps at the end

House components and little guys
Decorating time
The finished product; again an exercise in self control for me!
My Mum usually makes me my Christmas cake, in fact, I'm ashamed to say, I've never made one before. This year I was going to skip it as we are not having any family visiting. However Nigella got the best of me with her Chocolate Fruit Cake from Feast. It looks amazing, is soaking in Kahlua as I type and boasts one of my favorite combinations prunes and chocolate. Haven't tasted yet but can't imagine it will disappoint. It did take me a whole morning on my own to complete though; even the lining of the tin requited a lot of concentration and 25 minutes! 

These little fellas below are ready to go out; in the packages are Chocolate Crackle Cookies, a recipe. surprisingly, from McKormick spices. They include Roasted Saigon Cinnamon and Ancho Chile Pepper but are basically a double chocolate cookie with a kick. Yummy adult cookies but my kids love them too. They freeze amazingly too.

The other cookies in the packages are a recipe from the boys at Baked. The cookies are Oatmeal Cherry Chocolate chip from "Baked; New Frontiers in Baking". Very delicious.

Oatmeal Cherry Chocolate Chip Cookies

Today, Nigella linked to her Christmas Chocolate Biscuits, and they looked so easy and sounded so simple, I just had to give them a go:

They're similar little chocolate shortbreads with chocolate frosting...mmm
One last link; as yet I've only made the dough (it's sitting in the fridge) but no mention of Christmas cookies/ biscuits whatever you want to call them, is complete without these. This recipe for Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies was posted by me way back in March, but it is "Christmas in a cookie" for me.

Happy Baking!
Merry Christmas! 
Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 12, 2011

My favorite Cut Out Cookie Recipe...aka Jock Cookies!

Christmas Stars

A couple of years ago, our good friends visited us for Thanksgiving. Jayne is a great cook and also Northern Irish, so she came armed with many, goody stuffed Tupperware. The best of the best were these AMAZING sugar cookies that she had cut out in "Jock" (their dog) shapes and covered with melted butterscotch chips. Oh boy! They were so good. We (I particularly) could not stop eating them and I think even she was surprised how good the butterscotch tasted on a sugar cookie. If I remember correctly she was trying to avoid a supermarket trip so she used the butterscotch in a pinch. Anyway, Jayne was kind enough to fork over the recipe and now we need little excuse to whip up a batch in this house. So, it's time to share.

A wee bit of fun for the kids; Candy Cane Copycats

These cookies are in no way healthy; but they are not everyday cookies or lunch box snacks. They're for special occasions; it's up to you how many occasions you nominate special, after you taste them.

Cut Out Cookies

Sparkly Snowflakes


1 cup/ 1/2 lb butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. 
  3. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium, until whitened.
  4. Add the egg and vanilla and continue to beat on medium until well incorporated.
  5. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture slowly. Mix until just incorporated.
  6. Take the dough out of the bowl and shape it into a disc approx 1" thick.
  7. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for about 30 mins
  8. Roll out the dough on a floured surface to approx 1/4" thick. 
  9. Cut out your shapes til your hearts content and re-roll as necessary.
  10. Be careful not to overwork the dough and if the scraps get too warm, wrap again and place back in the refrigerator for another 10 mins or so.
  11. Bake for approx 5 minutes then turn the tray around and bake another 5 minutes. 
  12. They will be done when they begin to turn golden around the edges. 
  13. Cool for 2-3 minutes on the tray before transferring them to a cooling rack
  14. leave to cool completely before decorating
This Christmas, I used the simplest of frosting/ icing, borrowed from Nigella. The ratios are as follows:

1 cup confectioners sugar
1 1/2  tablespoons hot water

This will give you a pretty runny icing which you can flood the cookie with. It will dry to hard in a few hours. 

The cookies will keep (unfrosted) for about a week in an airtight container and apparently they freeze too. I am testing that out; I've frozen a sample and will add a comment when I defrost them.

My Halloween Cut Outs this year

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Healthier Take on Cornbread...and rambling on Thanksgiving

Cornbread muffins

I didn't grow up eating cornbread; soda and wheaten bread were my staples but when in Rome and all that. My first impression of cornbread was that it was distinctly dry and honestly a bit tasteless. However, I have come to enjoy it with some changes. I particularly think it makes a delicious stuffing.

A few years ago I tried a great version by Giada Di Laurentis.  She added cheese, garlic, fresh corn kernels and sundried tomatoes to a basic boxed cornbread mix. It was delicious, especially with chili and much more moist than my previous experience; I was a cornbread convert.

This Thanksgiving I need cornbread for 2 purposes; one for the stuffing and I also am on cornbread muffin duty for my daughters school Thanksgiving Feast. So, inspired by Giada's idea, I added fresh corn to a basic but healthier cornbread recipe and hey presto; I thought the sundried tomatoes might not go over so well with the 3 year old crowd.

The basic cornbread recipe is from Eating Well Magazine; which substitutes the usual high butter content with more buttermilk and just a little canola oil. In fact, I used light olive oil as I was all out of Canola. No harm done!

A Healthier Cornbread
based on an Eating Well Recipe


1 1/4 cups yellow stone ground cornmeal
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons canola or light olive oil
1 cup of thawed, frozen corn (or fresh)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F
  2. Grease or butter a 8 " square pan, a 12 count muffin pan or 24 mini muffins (as in the picture)
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt
  4. In a large bowl whisk together the egg, buttermilk and oil
  5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet. Stir until just combined 
  6. Finally add the corn and stir gently until just mixed through.
  7. Pour into the pan or into muffin cups.
  8. Bake for approx 25 minutes (square pan), less for the muffins; approx 15 mins for the mini muffins and 18 for the regular muffins. They will be done when a toothpick comes out clean.
  9. Cool the cornbread in the pan. For the muffins, remove them from the pan and place on a wire rack to cool.
  10. Like all muffins and quick breads, these will freeze nicely. I recommend triple wrapping in cling film before doing so.
A note on the recipe:
You can easily double this recipe and bake in a 9x13" pan. 

I plan on using my cornbread for the following stuffing recipe

I am churning the pumpkin ice cream as I write, thanks to David Lebovitz.

Brownie Pie was made and frozen last night thanks to Rachel Ray; sorry can't find a link to it but it's in the November magazine.

Finally, I plan to brine my turkey tomorrow night using the following recipe. I'm changing it up this year as I usually use this recipe, which is a total winner, if you're looking for inspiration.

Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours! Time for me to be thankful for great food, family, friends and health!


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thanksgiving Prep...and Cranberry, Pear and Ginger Chutney

After much deliberation (understatement of the century) I have finally decided on our Thanksgiving menu. I have pored through cooking Light, Eating Well magazines, Nigella Feast, Baked (both books) to name but a few. As you'll remember,  I'm Irish so I don't feel so tied to the usual traditions. Therein lies the problem; apart from turkey, I feel we can go in any direction with the food. My only fixed point is for the vegetables to be seasonal. So this morning, off we went to the Farmers Market to scoop up whatever looked best. I'm home with a purple cauliflower, butternut squash, brussels sprouts, parsnips, sweet potatoes, pears and apples. That helped me finalize the menu.

Here goes:

Thanksgiving menu


Pumpkin cheddar muffins


Green goddess dip
Artichoke dip
Trader Joe's Store bought appetizers (my one concession)

The Main Deal

Maple Cider Brined Turkey
Cranberry Pear and Ginger Chutney
Cornbread stuffing
Purple Cauliflower sauteed in olive oil and garlic
Parsnip Gratin
Pureed Sweet Potato with smoked paprika


Chocolate Brownie Pie
Pumpkin Ice Cream
Rustic Apple Pie

Random snack (who doesn't need one of those tucked in the cupboard?)

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Loaf

What did I miss? The cocktail of course, but that can wait for a couple of days to be finalized.

Last year I noisily proclaimed I was going to take shortcuts via Trader Joe's ready made choices. People who know me might find that ironic; even on a busy week night, it pains me to put a store bought meal in front of my family; so why Thanksgiving of all times?!

The truth is the greatest holiday excitement of my year is Christmas. I have incredibly happy memories of Christmas as a child. Unsurprisingly, most of the fun for me was food, not gift related. I love to recreate some of that for my children but a couple of years ago, after going all out for both holidays, I really did not enjoy my Christmas dinner.

Time to rethink the plan;  I decided to take a very simple approach to Thanksgiving going forward. It worked out for us last year; I used Trader Joe's Cranberry Sauce, Stuffing, Pumpkin pie and appetizers. It made for a very relaxing Thanksgiving Day. However this year I just can't bring myself to go the store bought route. So, make ahead is my strategy this year, plus I have assigned an appetizer to my husbands cousin who will be coming with her friend.

Today I made the Cornbread for the stuffing and the Cranberry Chutney. Tomorrow the Pumpkin Ice Cream is on my radar. The Pumpkin Chocolate Loaf is already made and in the Freezer. The plan is coming together! I'll share as much as I can.

Cranberry Pear and Ginger Chutney
based on a Epicurious recipe


2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup grated fresh ginger (peeled first, I freeze mine in a ziplock bag and find it so much easier to grate when frozen)
2 1/2 lemon zest (finely grated)
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 12 oz bag fresh cranberries, washed and picked through
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large firm pears, peeled cored and chopped into small pieces


  1. Combine the vinegar, onions, ginger, lemon zest, cinnamon stick, pepper flakes and cloves in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil
  2. Simmer for about 10 minutes to reduce by about half
  3. Add the cranberries, sugar and pears and stir until the sugar dissolves
  4. Cover and cook for about 30 minutes or until the pear is tender and the flavors have combined.
  5. Store in the fridge for 3 days, or freeze until needed and thaw at room temperature.
This would be a great idea to can but that's not in my skill set...yet, so I always freeze. It works out just fine. I always make extra so we can have it at both holidays (when I'm not get TJ's help) and we like it with crackers and cheese also...


Monday, November 14, 2011

Aromatic Butternut Squash Stew

Aromatic Butternut Squash Stew
I am continuing my love affair with the humble squash and here's my latest offering. This is a very versatile stew; you could switch in any number of other vegetables (but stick with the squash, please) and it will still taste great because of the combination of spices. I used the newest ingredient to my pantry; Saigon Cinnamon. I was keen to try it out in something, but you could absolutely replace this with regular cinnamon.

The recipe I used as a base was vegetarian but I added a little chicken sausage for an extra bite. Honestly, the meat is really not necessary to make this recipe a success; just use what you have and go for it! I do think this would make a great side dish for Thanksgiving. It fits my criteria for a restful Thanksgiving; you can make it ahead and simply warm it up. Like many a stew, the flavors even improve over a day or two.

Just one caveat; the photo above was taken after simmering 20 minutes longer that I would have liked. Hey, it was the witching hour in this house and I forgot to turn the stove off after a final taste. I have to say, that although the squash was a little mushier than I might choose, the stew was still utterly delicious. A very forgiving recipe.

Aromatic Butternut Squash Stew
loosely based on a food network kitchens recipe


  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 fully cooked chicken sausages, cut lengthwise and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 14 1/2 oz canned tomatoes (whatever you have on hand)
  • 1/4 teaspoon saigon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 medium butternut squash , peeled and cut into approx1-inch cubes
  • 1 (16-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed ( I used cannellini beans but chickpeas would be better)
  • 3 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • the zest of 1/2 a lime
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 2 cups of frozen corn, thawed
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a small handful of breadcrumbs (optional according to how you like your stew consistency)
  1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan and add cook the onions on medium heat for about 10 minutes
  2. Add the garlic and sausage and cook a further 3-4 minutes
  3. Add the tomatoes, cinnamon, coriander, cumin and red pepper flakes and cook a further 3-4 minutes
  4. Add the broth, squash, chickpeas, zest and raisins and simmer with the lid half on, for approx 20 minutes or until the squash is tender but still has a bite. 
  5. Finally add the corn and lime juice and warm through.
  6. Add a sprinkling of breadcrumbs if the stew seems a little watery (optional)
  7. This is delicious served with couscous but, as always with a stew, crusty bread would be a winner too.
A note on the recipe:
Vegetable switch-ins which would work nicely include; fresh spinach, shelled edamame or peas. 


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bread Bread and more Bread

Ahh....fresh bread
Be forewarned; this post has no recipes but, since I have been rather obsessed of late with the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day , I felt I needed to write something up to justify my slow output! At the end of the summer, a good friend of mine, whose cooking and baking skills I greatly admire, introduced me to the concept of Artisan bread in 5 minutes a day. So I promptly checked the first book out of the library and had a go. I was hooked! Their basic white rustic loaf is amazing! My kids and their friends just could not get enough.

But, I do regard this bread as a treat; it's ingredient list boasts not even a hint of my other obsession; wholegrains. Hence, next on my list was their 2nd book; Healthy Bread in 5 minutes a day; if I was going to continue the bread habit, better make it healthy. So I tried their Wholegrain Master Recipe . Again delicious and very popular with my kids too.

These breads are truly are very easy and quick to rustle up, but there are a number of detailed steps that should not be rehashed by me, for fear of missing an important point. Example below; I forgot to cross the top with my knife before putting the bread in the oven and this is what happened:

a rather bizarre shaped loaf (still tasted good though!)
Instead I would strongly encourage you to get a hold of one of the books and give the concept a try. I recommend reading the first section in the book thoroughly and do follow each detailed step meticulously for each recipe. It won't take you long to do so, but the authors' attention to detail in their recipes, really pays off with a beautiful rustic loaf.

If you're hungry for a little more information now though, in a nutshell, here's how it works. Mix together a batch of the bread dough in 5 minutes flat (yes, really). No kneading is required, very few ingredients and only 1 bowl or tupperware. The dough rises in a large tupperware on the counter for about 2 hours. Then you place the tupperware containing the dough in the fridge until you feel like some fresh bread. When you get the urge, take the dough out of the fridge and using scissors, snip off a grapefruit sized piece. Shape it into a round (again no kneading) , leave it to rest again then, bake in a super hot oven. What could be easier??? Honestly, not a lot.

I probably should add that this is my first time using yeast as a rising agent; I'm Irish for goodness sake! We use baking soda and buttermilk! Anyway, for whatever reason, I was somewhat intimidated by yeast, but I'm so glad I gave it a go. It's very satisfying to have this dough in your fridge knowing fresh bread is just a notion away. They have amazing ideas for add ins, shapes and sizes to make all manner of bready baked good.

This one even has my beloved butternut squash baked in

And if the bread gets a chance to go stale...whip up a little panzanella or crostini

Have a go!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Halloween Brownies anyone?

The m and m's may suggest "kid" food, but the brownie is all about the adults

Full disclosure; the following recipe is not my usual healthy take on a classic recipe. This is pure unadulterated sugar, butter and CHOCOLATE...but oh so good on an occasional basis; particularly over Halloween.

That said, the brownies described are a new recipe to me. I typically make either a healthier version or if I'm going all out, I use a recipe that calls for many more eggs than I had left in my refrigerator.  So I set out on a google search for a rich, no holds barred, brownie recipe that only required 4 eggs.

Enter David Lebovitz. He calls these his absolute best brownies and the man does not lie. I didn't change the recipe much, except I recommend using  parchment instead of foil and I doubled the recipe to bake enough for a party. Also, to Halloween-ify them, I dotted the top with orange m and m's, 10 mins before they finished baking.

Something I learned from the Baked gods, you can freeze a brownie very successfully. Who knew? You just triple wrap them in cling wrap and let them defrost at room temperature when you feel the craving. Having learned that useful snippet, I see no point in ever baking a small pan.

Anyway, these are super-decadent, fudgy rich brownies. Bake them at your waistline's peril. I had hoped to take some to a Halloween party, but there's no way they'll last that long.

Halloween Brownies


12 tablespoons butter
16 oz dark chocolate (chips or chopped)
1 and 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup all purpose flour
Orange m and m's


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F
  2. Butter a 9x 13" baking pan, line it with parchment, leaving 2" extra on 2 sides. Then butter the parchment paper.
  3. Using a low heat, melt the butter in a medium sized pot 
  4. When melted, turn the heat off 
  5. Add the chocolate and stir until melted 
  6. Stir in the sugar and vanilla 
  7. Stir in the eggs beating or whisking vigorously until combined 
  8. Finally add the flour and stir "energetically" for 1 full minute until the mix looks glossy and the graininess of the sugar has gone (apparently this is the key to success with this recipe)
  9. Pour the mix into the prepared pan and into the center of the oven 
  10. Cook for 20 minutes then remove the brownies and push in the m and m's to the almost set batter
  11. Return the pan to the oven for a further 10-15 minutes or until the center of the brownies is just set.
  12. Cool the brownies in the pan
  13. When completely cool, lift the brownies out of the pan by the parchment paper and cut them into squares

These will keep in an airtight container for 4 days (good luck with keeping them that long!) and will freeze beautifully (see above).


Monday, October 10, 2011

The Everything Muffin

The Everything muffin

Those who know me well, know they will often be offered a muffin at some point during a visit. I do love me a muffin. My current favorite and (Jayne, this ones for you) is this little fella' pictured.

Often I find that muffins are no use for an on the go snack; great in the house, where we can sweep up the crumbs easily, but in the car or anywhere else, a little too messy. This one is different. It maintains it's integrity, but is still soft and moist enough to be very delicious. And, it's healthy to boot; it has no oil or butter in it. Yet it doesn't have that tell tale, rubbery or hard texture, of many healthy muffins. These points make it a great kid snack and particularly when you're on the go. My 4 year old (for only 6 more days...) now takes a packed lunch to school, so these have been a snack feature frequently in the last month. I should add, they freeze exceptionally well.

Are you in yet? If I still haven't convinced you, then here's my last attempt; it's got ooey gooey chocolate chips in it. It doesn't take many chocolate chips to take a healthy muffin from blah to crave-worthy.

The Everything Muffin
based loosely on a Cooking Light recipe

makes 18 muffins


1 cup whole wheat pasty flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 cup old fashioned oats
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon wheat bran
3 tablespoons ground flaxseed
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain or fat free or low fat yogurt (I prefer to use 0% Greek yogurt)
1 cup mashed ripe bananas ( about 2 bananas)
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups chopped dried cherries or prunes or apricots (or combination of all or your favorites)
1/2 cup chocolate chips

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F
  2. Place muffin liners in the muffin pans
  3. Place flours, oats, what bran flaxseed, baking soda and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine.
  4. Add the brown sugar and whisk also.
  5. In a separate bowl whisk together the egg, yogurt and bananas
  6. Add the Dry ingredients to the wet and stir until just combined.
  7. Finally stir in the dried fruit and chocolate chips.
  8. Using an ice cream scoop fill the muffin cup to about 2/3 full 
  9. Place in the oven for approximately 20 minutes or until the spring back when touched lightly on top.
  10. Remove the muffins from the pan immediately and cool on a wire rack.
If you wish to freeze them, make sure they are completely cool, then place muffins in a zip-lock bag and into the freezer.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A simple fall dinner

Nothing says Fall more than the huge butternut squash that hit the markets at this time of year. I love the taste of butternut squash, probably more than any other vegetable. Sweet, earthy and nourishing to boot.

On Friday, I had about 1 hour in the house before heading out on a variety of kid centered missions in the afternoon. The challenge was; to get a dinner prepared that could be on the table within 5 minutes of us arriving home. The second challenge; that the dinner actually taste good having waited a few hours for our return.

Enter roasted sagey squash, onion and potatoes with sausages. I hurriedly chopped the potatoes and squash into small pieces, tossed them with fresh sage, olive oil, salt and pepper, then into the oven for a while. Sausages into the microwave to defrost, then onto the grill (my oven is tiny; if I had room they would have snuggled in alongside the potatoes). Dinner was made and ready to reheat when we arrived back at later. A hunger emergency was narrowly avoided in our house.

The verdict; a delicious but utterly simple, Fall dinner, kids and adults agreed. Super tasty served with a chutney or relish alongside.

Sagey Fall Vegetables with Sausages


1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped into bite sized pieces
1 red onion, halved and sliced
4-5 medium potatoes, chopped into bite sized pieces
A small glug of olive oil
Salt and pepper
A small handful of fresh sage, chopped finely
1 lb sausages of your choice


  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F 
  2. Using a large roasting tray, toss the squash and onions together with some olive oil, seasoning and sage
  3. On another roasting tray, toss the potatoes with olive oil and seasoning
  4. Meanwhile preheat your grill and get the sausages on 
  5. Check on the vegetables after 10 minutes and shake to move around
  6. The vegetables should take about 25-30 minutes to cook; the potatoes will need a little longer than the squash
  7. Serve when ready or cover for reheating later.
A couple of notes:
  • I am not a big salt fan, but roasted vegetables need salted generously in my opinion. I use sea salt to lower the sodium content.
  • Please feel free to substitute a herb of your choice for the sage. I happen to love sage and the earthy Fall vegetables, but rosemary would also be lovely here.
  • A few cloves of garlic are be delicious roasted with the potatoes

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Baked Beans

Baked Beans

This recipe is a good fit for a rainy, homebound day; it takes a long time, but is very worth it. If it needs more selling, the large periods of inactive cooking time make it  the perfect choice if you (like me) are also juggling the demands of a 3 year old underfoot.

My husband and I were raised on Heinz baked beans. For those of you not from the UK, baked beans were most mothers "go to" side dish on a busy night and they were always the pairing with sausages. I think nowadays I'd find them too sweet, nevertheless, recently I have been thinking about them a lot.

So browsing through Mark Bittmans's Food Matters Cookbook, I was drawn to the Boston Baked Beans. American baked beans are a different breed, but I thought I'd give them a go. I mean they start with bacon; whats not to love? The verdict; my husband and I loved them. The girls were indifferent which blew me away, given my fond childhood food memories. I may have caught them on a contrary night; it wouldn't be the first! I'll keep you posted when the saved leftovers come out of the freezer for attempt #2

In the meantime, try them out for yourself (when you have a day at home...).

Baked Beans
adapted from a Mark Bittman recipe


8 oz bacon, cubed or thinly sliced
2 onions, chopped
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup molasses
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 lb dried white beans (confession; I used dried kidney as I was all out of white), rinsed
salt and pepper to taste


  1. Preheat the oven to 300°F
  2. Using a large oven proof casserole (I used a cast iron dutch oven) cook the bacon over a medium heat until crispy and the fat is rendered.
  3. Remove the bacon from the pot and pour off most of the bacon fat, leaving approx 1 tablespoon 
  4. Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pot and the onions.
  5. Cook the onions until soft and browned (approx 15-20 mins)
  6. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for a couple of minutes
  7. Add the cooked bacon, molasses and mustard
  8. Then add the beans and enough water to cover everything by 2 "
  9. Bring to the boil and scrape up all the tasty bits on the bottom of the pot while stirring
  10. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven.
  11. Bake for 1 hour then stir and check the liquid level. It should not fall below 1 1/2 ". Add more water if necessary.
  12. Cover and bake for another hour, then check again. By this point the beans should be getting softer.
  13. Keep checking every 30 minutes and when the beans are tender, remove the lid, increase the oven temp to 400°F.
  14. Continue baking until the liquid reduces to the correct consistency (mine took over an hour to do this, Mr. Bittman suggests anywhere between 15 mins and an hour)
  15. Serve and then freeze the leftovers

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Panzanella Salad

Panzanella Salad

I composed most of this post over a month ago when the summer was still in full force and therefore tomatoes were at their peak. Life got busy, time passed and finally I'm getting around to sharing this beauty.
One of my go to meals each summer is the versatile Panzanella, or Tuscan Bread Salad. If you're a breadaholic, like me, it's a wonderful summer comfort food. I'll never forget the first time I made it, I enjoyed it so much that I have the time, place and company etched in my food memory bank (a fun place to visit!).

The basic premise of cubes of stale bread, a good olive oil and red wine vinegar dressing, tomatoes, cucumbers and fresh basil, can be taken in many directions. I usually add white beans and chunks of Parmesan which makes it just delicious. I have substituted zucchini, green beans, edamame, peas and also added leftover chicken or pork. Some bacon would be nice although surprisingly I haven't tried that yet.

Traditionally the bread used is stale, not toasted. It's a great 'make ahead' meal; it really needs to sit together in your refrigerator for a couple of hours to give adequate time to marry the flavors and for the bread to soak the yummy dressing.

Summer may be over but we are still harvesting cucumbers from our teeny tiny vegetable patch and the tomatoes are holding their own in our local farm store. So, if you're like me and desperately holding on to the last remnants of summer, make yourself a panzanella salad.

Panzanella Salad
adapted from an Everday Food Recipe


1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 cans cannellini beans (drained and rinsed)
3 cups of cubed stale crusty bread (preferably wholewheat)
1 lb plum tomatoes (or whatever variety you have), cut into bitesize pieces
1 English cucumber, chopped into bitesize pieces, skin on
1/4 medium red onion, very thinly sliced
4 oz Parmesan cheese, cut roughly into small chunks
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves


  1. Using a large bowl, mix the vinegar, oil, salt and pepper.
  2. Add the beans, bread, tomatoes, cucumber, onion and cheese
  3. Toss together gently to ensure all ingredients are coated with the dressing
  4. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours an up to 8 hours.
  5. Add the basil just before serving
A couple of notes on the recipe:
  • This is a great leftover "user upper"; add whatever is lurking in your fridge (within reason!) See below for photos of my leftover panzanella.
  • We have not been growing english cucumbers, so I roughly peel the kirbys, deseed them and chop.
  • This is very tasty as a side with fish or on it's own as a vegetarian dinner.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Mango Coconut Ice Cream

Mango Coconut Ice Cream

Apologies it's taken me so long to post this recipe. It's a winner and while most of you may no longer be craving ice cream, I'm sure there are some like me, who always do. There is never a time I would refuse ice cream; two pregnancies have only intensified my deep love for any type of ice cream.

The recipe is super easy; it's from Cooking Light Magazine, June 2011. Basically you make a smoothie then put it in your ice cream maker. Done! And the best bit; it's really pretty healthy but has a creamy consistency thanks to the coconut milk. It also keeps well, without icing up, the way many home made ice creams seem to. My kids both love this ice cream so it's a good all round family pleaser.

Try it out quickly before the snow comes!

Mango Coconut Ice Cream


2 cups cubed and peeled ripe mango
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 (13.5oz) can light coconut milk


  1. Place the ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth
  2. The pour the "smoothie" mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze following the instructions on your ice cream maker.
  3. Spoon the ice cream into a freezable container and freeze for at least 2 hours to firm up.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Chicken and Rice Comfort Casserole

I'm always in search of a new idea for leftovers either meat or vegetables. My staple turns for leftovers are frittatas, enchiladas and pizza toppings, but I needed something new. I had leftover chicken and was craving rice, so googled the 2 for inspiration. Taking a lead from this recipe, here is the result.

I have to admit that much as I love love love the summer here, I do welcome the cooler weather; now I can turn on my stove again without cooking myself at the same time. So the prospect of brown rice needing 45 minutes on the stove, was happily an option, this morning, when I got a jump start on dinner.

This is a simple take on a casserole, but from from scratch. The sauce created is very reminiscent of a Campbell's soup casserole, but oh so much tastier and better for you. It checks off all the boxes for nutrition and throws in some major comfort too.

My oldest daughter has just started full day Kindergarten and in contrast to her usual hearty appetite, is often so tired by dinner that she has lost interest in food. So, tonight I prescribed comfort food, in the hope of getting a decent meal in her tired little body, before bed. It worked! I asked her if she liked her dinner and she answered, "Love it!". Score for Mummy!! Unfortunately my 3 year old was not so convinced; I'll keep working on her!

Chicken and Rice Comfort Casserole

Serves 4


3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 cup low fat milk
1 cup chicken or veg broth ( preferably low sodium)
2-3 cups cooked chicken (chopped)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage (or herb of your choice)
2-3 cups cooked brown rice
1 1/2 cups frozen peas (thawed)
1/4 cup wholegrain breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan


  1. Preheat the oven to 400
  2. Melt butter in a pan over a medium heat
  3. Add the flour and cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring.
  4. Pour in the liquid and whisk over the heat until smooth and thickened.
  5. Add the chicken and sage
  6. Taste and season as necessary
  7. Lightly butter or oil a medium sized shallow casserole dish
  8. Place the rice on the bottom of the dish and sprinkle over the peas
  9. Pour the chicken in the sauce over the top and spread evenly
  10. Mix together the breadcrumbs and Parmesan and sprinkle on top of the casserole
  11. Place in the oven for approx 30 minutes and serve with a salad, or not...

Notes on the recipe:
This is an endlessly tweekable recipe; adding more cheese to the sauce would be tasty. Also, many different herbs could replace the sage; thyme would be particularly good. Broccoli or green beans would be good replacements for the peas.